[…] The sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome provides an opportune time to look back at the EEC’s founding, and to clear up some common misconceptions.
First, the oft-told story of Jean Monnet as the driving force behind the EEC and European unification is just plain wrong. This narrative is relayed by both the European Union’s opponents and supporters. As the European Union’s partisans tell it, Monnet was the great visionary who guided Europe out of an era of war and strife and into an era of peaceful cooperation. According to the European Union’s opponents, Monnet was the elitist cosmopolitan who undermined European democracy by transferring power away from national parliaments to a distant bureaucracy.
Both versions of the story are wrong. Monnet simply did not matter that much. Most of his initiatives failed or only half succeeded, and he had little involvement in the EEC’s creation. The real impetus behind the EEC was economic: namely, the need to reduce tariffs to facilitate the expansion of European trade, and thereby increase European growth.
The specific form the EEC took, however, wasn’t inevitable. It reflected the changed political situation in postwar Europe. While many European liberals simply wanted to reduce tariff barriers, the shifting political context necessitated that workers and farmers receive at least some protection from the vagaries of trade. It’s that context which has changed in the ensuing decades, leaving us with a profoundly undemocratic European Union.