Frenchman Jean Monnet (1888-1979) "inspired" the founding
of European integration. He was not, in fact, the only "founder"
of a historical experience whose effects have reached far beyond Europe
but, as General de Gaulle once said, he was "the inspirer."
Seventy years after the launch of the Schuman Plan, on May 9, 1950, the
effects of the integration that originated at that time still endure and
have deepened in the current European Union (EU).
Monnet never went to university. According to his own account in his
memoirs, after his secondary studies, his father, a businessman from Cognac
(France), sent him off to sell brandy in different countries. He was thus
formed through practical experience. He was not a theoretician nor an
academic. But he always surrounded himself and learnt from people with
experience and knowledge. Before his time in the European Coal and Steel
Community (ECSC) and later in the European Economic Community (EEC), he
had valuable experiences at the level of joint initiatives, first in the
League of Nations and then as Commissioner of the Plan in France.
We could also say that Monnet, in addition to "inspiring",
was noted for being a "builder." In other words, his inspirations
were meant to generate actions aimed at building a reality of joint work
between people and, especially, between nations.
Hence, familiarizing ourselves today with Monnet's thoughts and, in particular,
with his central ideas about the reasons that drive joint and institutionalized
work between nations that share a history and a contiguous regional space,
can help us rethink both the existential and the methodological dimension
of the regional integration processes.
In order to become familiar with the contributions of Jean Monnet to
the European construction we can recommend three books. The first and
most important is Memoirs, (Fayard, Paris, 1976) written at the end of
his life, almost when he was turning 90, in which he narrates his rich
and varied experiences (English edition, Memoirs, Third Millenium Publishing,
London 2015). The other two are: Jean Monnet. The First Statesman of Interdependence,
by François Duchene, (WWNorton & Company, New York-London 1994),
and Jean Monnet, 1888-1979, by Eric Roussel (Fayard, Paris 1996).
What were some of the main ideas that guided the integration initiatives
developed by Jean Monnet and that are currently proving their relevance
both in Europe and in Mercosur?
Three key ideas stand out in the Monnet method for building spaces of
integration that are sustainable over time between contiguous nations.
These are: the pooling of resources, especially those that have given
rise to or could lead to confrontation scenarios, even violent ones; generating
de facto solidarities, which help in the development of linkage effects
between the respective political, economic and social systems; and finally,
approaching cooperative relations based on common legal rules and institutions.
In order to be effective such method requires a permanent institutional
pact without deadlines, promoted at the highest political level of the
participating countries, that provides a framework for joint work between
the nations involved, and that helps generate the necessary links to sustain
it over time. There is not a one-fits-all model of such institutional
pact and, in fact, it can be developed in several steps and stages.
Having reversed the tendency towards confrontation in Europe, especially
between Germany and France in the coal and steel sector, was the clearest
effect achieved through the Schuman Plan. This happened in 1950, a time
when the international context was showing signs of a return to the course
of collision between the nations that had been involved in bloody wars
during the previous decades, two of them of global scope.
If something stands out from the integration methodology inspired by
Jean Monnet, is that its formulation and its translation into reality
require acting in three dimensions simultaneously.
Such dimensions are, first and foremost, the political and, based on
it, the economic and the legal dimensions. Envisioning a project of integration
between contiguous sovereign nations, who wish to remain so and that have
unequal relative power, without the consent and support of their citizens
(the political dimension), a sustainable integration of their economic
and productive systems (the economic dimension), and without a foundation
of common rules and institutions (the legal dimension), would be to condemn
it either to failure or, what would be practically the same, to having
a short-lived effect.
It becomes clear from this first European experience that neutralizing
the more complex effects of the inequality of relative power between the
participating nations is a key factor in order to achieve the sustainability
of an integration project over time.
In this perspective, the common institutions and ground rules helped,
among other things, to generate effective expectations of mutual gains;
to protect the interests of partners with less relative power; and at
the same time, to generate a reasonable balance between two requirements
that might be contradictory: that of the predictability necessary to encourage
productive investments, and that of the flexibility that is required for
the rules to adapt to very dynamic and sometimes unpredictable realities.
Almost 70 years after the launch of the Schuman Plan, what can be called
the "Monnet method" of regional integration continues to show
its validity, even for countries in other regions and, most certainly,
in Latin America. It is not focused on a predetermined final product,
consisting of the transformation of autonomous units of power into a new
supranational whole (even though that might have been the apparent objective
at the beginning). It is not, therefore, based on the goal of superseding
pre-existing independent national spaces, including their own markets,
for example, through conceptually rigid formulas such as that of a customs
union or of a free trade zone. Nor does it involve erasing national identities.
On the contrary, the sharing of markets and resources with the intention
of permanence; the collective disciplines resulting from the effective
validity of the common rules and institutions; the effects of the linkages
that make it costly -though not impossible- to withdraw from the joint
work agreement (as evinced in the recent experience of the "Brexit"
by the United Kingdom); and the reality of having greater power to operate
effectively in the international system, are just some of the main positive
effects that can explain why the "Monnet method" of integration
has a validity that exceeds its own original European space.
The fact that there is no single and unique formula on how to achieve
the positive effects that can be generated from joint, voluntary and sustained
work between a group of nations that pool their resources, their sovereignty
and their identities (but not necessarily renounce the possibility of
regaining their independence) helps explain the current validity of this
methodology in a world where all countries aspire to enhance their multiple
options for international integration.