Jean Monnet was born on November 9, 1888 in Cognac. At the age of 16, he left his native land for England, Scandinavia, Russia, Egypt, Canada and the United States for the first time to represent his father’s cognac trading enterprise. After years of traveling, he returned to France in 1914 when the First World War broke out. He immediately placed himself at the service of the State and proposed to the President of the Council to set up a plan for the coordination of Allied war resources, bringing France and Great Britain closer together.
After the war, Jean Monnet became one of the most respected financial experts in the world without ever having done great studies: in the 1920s, he participated in the economic recovery of certain countries of Central and Eastern Europe; in 1929, he founded and co-presided Bancamerica-Blair; from 1934 to 1936, he stayed in China as an adviser to Chiang Kai-check. When World War II approached, Jean Monnet was appointed by Edouard Daladier to negotiate with Washington, then London. In 1940, he inspired de Gaulle and Churchill to plan for a Franco-British union to confront Nazism, a project that was rejected by Marshal Petain.
We find once again Jean Monnet, the visionary, in Algiers in 1943, who first proposed a “European construction”. He drafted the “Memorandum of Algiers” which lays down the basic principles of the European Union: in order to maintain the conditions of peace in Europe, “the European states must form a federation or a European entity which will make it a common economic unit”. He continued to enhance his project of Europe until the conditions for its realization were met, that is to say in May 1950.
The CFLN, Algiers, 1943.
Jean Monnet is seated back left.
He was appointed head of the French National Economic Planning Commission in 1946 and designed the Monnet Plan, a plan for modernization and equipment that enabled France to revive the French economy.
In 1950, when tensions at the international level rose, Jean Monnet and his team worked together to design the European Community. On May 9, 1950, with the agreement of Chancellor Adenauer, Robert Schuman made a proposal on behalf of the French government, proposal drafted by Jean Monnet, to place the entire Franco-German production of coal and steel under a common High Authority open to other European countries. Immediately, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands responded favorably. This way, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was created, laying the foundations for the European Community. In 1952, Jean Monnet became the first president of the High Authority.
After the failure of the European Defense Community (EDC) in 1953, Jean Monnet founded the Action Committee for the United States of Europe, often referred to as the Monnet Committee. The Committee, which brings together European political parties and trade unions, becomes a real breeding ground for European integration, such as the creation of the common market, the common monetary system, the European Council, or the British accession and the election of the European Parliament by universal suffrage.
As a crowning achievement, on April 2, 1976 the European Heads of State and Government awarded Jean Monnet with the title of ‘Honorary Citizen of Europe’ because he “devoted the greater part of his talents to the European cause and deserved a very special mark of gratitude and admiration from Europe.” He has already retired from politics and is writing his memoirs at his house in Houjarray. On March 16, 1979, he passed away at the age of ninety. To commemorate the centenary of his birth, by decision of the President of the French Republic, François Mitterrand, Jean Monnet’s remains were transferred to be interred at the Panthéon in Paris on 9 November.
Ceremony of November 9, 1988: transfer of Jean Monnet’s remains to the Paris Panthéon.
Quotation from a speech given by François Mitterrand, former French President, during the transfer of Jean Monnet’s remains to the Paris Panthéon.
Find Jean Monnet’s life in his Mémoires, published by Fayard or in Livre de Poche, both available in French and English at our gift shop.