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France’s Broken Dream

CAMBRIDGE – The crisis in the eurozone is the result of France’s persistent pursuit of the “European project,” the goal of political unification that began after World War II when two leading French politicians, Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, proposed the creation of a United States of Europe.

Monnet and Schuman argued that a political union similar to America’s would prevent the types of conflict that had caused three major European wars – an appealing idea, but one that overlooked America’s horrific Civil War. A European political union could also make Europe a power comparable to the United States, and thereby give France, with its sophisticated foreign service, an important role in European and world affairs.

The Monnet-Schuman dream led to the 1956 Treaty of Rome, which established a small free-trade area that was later expanded to form the European Economic Community. Establishing the EEC had favorable economic effects, but, like the North American Free Trade Area, it did not reduce national identification or create a sense of political unity.

That was the purpose of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union. The influential report “One market, one money,” issued in 1990 under the leadership of the former French Finance Minister Jacques Delors, called for the creation of a single currency, relying on the specious argument that the single market could not function well otherwise. More realistically, advocates of a single currency reasoned that it would cause people to identify as Europeans, and that the shift to a single European Central Bank would herald a shift of power away from national governments.