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Decolonization in French West Africa  

Tony Chafer

Studies of French decolonization in West Africa have traditionally treated it as a planned and reasonably smooth process. It has therefore been portrayed as a successful decolonization that stands in stark contrast to the much more conflictual decolonization processes in Indochina (1947–1954) and Algeria (1954–1962), which were marked by prolonged wars. This approach has tended to give pride of place to the role of individuals—members of France’s governing elites and African political leaders—who are portrayed as having successfully managed the transition to independence. While the importance of such individuals cannot be denied, it is important to recognize that French decolonization in West Africa was a contingent process. Shaped by the particular nature of French colonial rule in the region, the new international context after 1945, events on the ground, and—on the French side—the perceived need to maintain empire at all costs in order to restore French grandeur after the humiliation of defeat and occupation in the Second World War, it was a process that involved a multiplicity of French and African actors who were not in control of the policy agenda but who were, on the contrary, operating in a highly constrained context and constantly being forced to react to rapidly unfolding events. De Gaulle finally decided to grant independence in 1959, and within a year all the territories of former French West Africa had gained their political independence. However, political independence did not mean French withdrawal and the end of French dominance. There were many continuities between the colonial and postcolonial periods, which have been analyzed in a burgeoning literature on French neocolonialism in sub-Saharan Africa. Decolonization should therefore be seen as a process that started well before French rule formally ended in 1960 and that is—arguably—still ongoing.

Article

The Schuman Plan and the Start of Supranational European Integration  

Piers Ludlow

France turned to European integration out of an awareness of the weakness of its international position in 1950. In particular it was conscious of the way in which it had been marginalized in the debate about the treatment of postwar Germany, forced to watch as a much stronger Federal Republic re-emerged than the French were comfortable with. But it was this defeat that spurred the radicalism of the Schuman Plan—the bold announcement by the French foreign minister in May 1950 that his country was willing jointly to operate its coal and steel sectors with Germany and whichever other European states felt able to join. The idea of building a strong European structure to control both French and German heavy industry was not an idealistic move, but something that would help avoid the likely triumph of German industry and the damage it could do to French recovery. In the process it would save the Monnet Plan, the economic blueprint for French postwar reconstruction put together by the author of the Schuman Plan, Jean Monnet. But it also would advance the wider goal of establishing a European framework within which Germany’s re-emergence could be controlled. That same framework, furthermore, appealed to Adenauer’s Germany as one that would both facilitate the new state’s international rehabilitation and bind the country securely to the Western bloc. To this central Franco-German bargain four other European countries would rally, partly out of enthusiasm for the wider goal of European unity, partly through fear of exclusion from a Europe built exclusively by their two largest neighbors. But crucially for future developments the United Kingdom would choose to abstain principally because it was too content with the European status quo of 1950 to need to embark on institutional experiments. This constituted a choice, the repercussions of which have endured into the early 21st century. The Schuman Plan thus constitutes a vital formative episode in the European integration process: it inaugurated a key French tactic and German response, it determined the cast list of the early integration story, and it introduced an institutional structure and modus operandi that, significantly modified, still lie at the heart of the 21st-century European Union.

Article

The European Defence Community  

Richard Griffiths

In 1950, France, West Germany, Italy, and the Benelux countries started talks that would culminate in a treaty for a European Defence Community (EDC), a treaty that was signed but never ratified. The initiative for a common European army was the French response to the American demand for a rearmed Germany. Against the background of the North Korean invasion of the South in June 1950 and the numerical superiority of Soviet conventional ground forces on the European continent, US President Truman wanted to see the major increase in US defense capacity in Europe compensated by an equivalent effort in Europe, including a rearmament of Germany. For France, such rearmament, only five years after the end of World War II, was politically unacceptable. With the support of Jean Monnet, Prime Minister René Pléven proposed a scheme for a European army operating within the framework of a single political and military authority. The plan included a European defense minister, appointed by national governments and responsible to a Council of Ministers and a European Assembly. While each state would retain national defense and command structures, there would be no German defense ministry or army. The German troops would be recruited directly into the European army. The Treaty creating a European Defence Community was signed in Paris on May 27, 1952, by all six negotiation parties (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy, and Germany), but was not ratified by France, the initiator of the initiative. On August 30, 1954, the French Assembly decided not to put the EDC treaty to a vote, meaning that it in effect rejected the proposal for a European army. The problem of German rearmament was ultimately addressed by admitting West Germany into the Western Union, which was renamed the Western European Union, and by welcoming it as a member of NATO.