How Canada inspired the Frenchman who helped unite Europe

The son of a cognac maker, Jean Monnet became a champion of a unified Europe after finding inspiration for a harmonious federalist model in Canada. Fondation Jean Monnet

How Canada inspired the Frenchman who helped unite Europe

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) initiative between the European Union and the United States has stalled under U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump, in fact, has expressed strong and persistent support for Brexit and breakaway movements in a number of EU member states, and he has articulated hopes for the disintegration of the entire union.

Lately, he even described the EU as a “foe” of the United States.

In contrast, Canada-EU relations have intensified over time, and are likely to continue to do so in the years to come with the full implementation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement known as CETA.

The partnership model of CETA actually embodies the early visions of European and transatlantic integration. Trump’s adversarial approach to Europe does not. What has evolved into today’s EU was heavily inspired by North America, and wider transatlantic integration was the ultimate goal of European unity.

Jean Monnet (1888-1979) is viewed as the chief architect of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the precursor of the EU. He spent his early years working as an agent for his father, a cognac producer. In the search for new emerging markets that the bigger and more renowned brandy firms from Cognac had not yet tried to reach, Monnet came to Canada in the early 1900s.

Monnet at Niagara Falls, Ont. (Fondation Jean Monnet, Lausanne, Switzerland)

Monnet travelled from Montréal to Vancouver Island, and visited numerous destinations between 1907 and 1914.

In Canada, Monnet was exposed to the country’s unique form of federalism, and he became convinced that it was possible to achieve lasting political change from the narrow-minded nationalism that had plagued Europe throughout the centuries.

In particular, the optimism he observed in the new economic union among economically and ethnically diverse people seemed to form his perceptions on “change.” Because the people Monnet met in Canada were immigrants, newly arrived from Europe, Monnet concluded that change was also possible in Europe.

Life in the U.S.

Later in life, Monnet also spent a significant amount of time in the United States. He lived in San Francisco during the 1920s and in Washington, D.C. in the 1940s. Some have argued that Monnet, at least until after the Second World War, had more extensive knowledge of Canada and the United States, and more friends in North America, than he did in either France or elsewhere in Europe.

Monnet felt inspired by what he referred to as the American temperament, or by the “America on the move” attitude. All in all, his early impressions of North America, coupled with his economic and political savvy, are likely to have been major considerations for Monnet when, in the post-Second World War period, he forged the ECSC, the genesis of a new European confederation, the EU.

Monnet’s vision for European integration was never in opposition to co-operation with North America. In an article written in 1961 in the now-defunct French magazine Réalités, Monnet argued for the creation of a far-reaching “Atlantic Community” in which the European nations, together with the United States, would share common institutions based on a genuine delegation of powers.

The article, entitled “Western Unity: The Cornerstone of World Peace,” was written when Monnet was president of the Action Committee for a United States of Europe.

It demonstrates that for Monnet, wider transatlantic cooperation was not perceived to be in conflict with the interests he advanced for European unity. On the contrary, European unity was seen as a precondition for a “true” Atlantic community, a fusion of the Old World and the New World in which Europe and North America could act as equal partners.

Canadians and Europeans

CETA is the first major preferential-trade agreement that the EU has negotiated with a large, industrialized, developed country. The Canadian government presents CETA as a progressive trade deal that upholds and promotes the values that Canada shares with the EU.

Through CETA, Canada and the EU are in line with Monnet’s vision for an Atlantic community. Currently, the U.S. seems unwilling to join this community. However, that might change.

It’s an era in which unpredictability seems to be the new normal, after all. Following European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker’s recent visit to Washington, Trump proclaimed that the EU and the U.S. were launching a “new phase in the relationship.”

Monnet, an eternal optimist, was always convinced that ultimately, the United States too would delegate powers of effective action to common institutions, even on political questions.

Monnet’s focus on closer transatlantic integration and his enthusiasm for the co-operative dynamism of the New World in North America is inspiring given his background in the Old World. He was clearly confident that federalism and multi-level governance was the way towards a prosperous and peaceful future.

What would he make of Trump? Probably not much, but there’s little doubt the indefatigable Frenchman would have enjoyed working with the Canadians towards the thriving “Atlantic Community” he’d envisioned.

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