Open Journal of Political Science
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 24-29
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Pierre Mendès France, French Security Politics, and the
European Defense Community
Emmanuel Konde
Albany State University, Albany, USA
Received September 19th, 2012; revised October 25th, 2012; accepted November 8th, 2012
This paper examines the role of Pierre Mendès France in the decision of the French National Assembly to
reject the European Defense Community (EDC) proposed by René Pleven in October 1950 and signed by
the [Antoine] Pinay government in 1952. Since the signing of the EDC treaty in 1952, successive gov-
ernments of the Fourth Republic delayed action on ratification of the treaty until 1954 when Mendès
France assumed the office of prime minister and, acting against conventional wisdom, forced the National
Assembly to vote on it. The EDC was a collective attempt by western European powers, with the full
support of the United States, to counterbalance the overwhelming conventional military ascendancy of the
Soviet Union in Europe by forming a supranational European army. This collective security plan had its
origins in the French government of René Pleven in 1950. Why the French signed the treaty establishing
the EDC two years later in 1952, and then rejected it in 1954 after four years of debate, is of central con-
cern to this paper, which explores the intersection and interplay of various factors that contributed to the
negative French vote.
Keywords: Mendès France; Fourth Republic; Schuman Plan; EDC; France; Europe; Germany; United
At the cessation of World War II hostilities in 1945, Ger-
many was occupied by the four major powers: the United States,
Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The great power compe-
tition for European zones of influence caused the United States
to be very concerned about the stability of Europe. This con-
cern prompted the United States to initiate the Marshall Plan as
a first step toward ensuring European stability. Inaugurated in
1947, the Plan envisioned the economic recovery of Western
Europe. Britain and France, sometimes reluctantly, followed the
American lead for the inclusion of Germany in the recovery
program. In general, however, the western occupying powers
were in agreement that restrictions imposed after the cessation
of hostilities should be eased gradually. But, whereas France en-
tertained apprehensions about Germany’s recovery, the United
States tended to show primary concern for relieving the Ame-
rican taxpayer of the burden of supporting the Germans (Ken-
nan, 1967: pp. 398 and 451). Uncertain about American com-
mitment to permanent disarmament of Germany, France took
the lead in initiating collective security proposals: the Schuman
Plan and the EDC. This essay is concerned about the EDC, with
particular emphasis on how Pierre Mendès France compelled
the National Assembly to decide on it.
The Great Powers and the German Problem
The great power competition in post-war Europe, which
reached its peak during the Berlin Crisis of 1948-1949, ulti-
mately led to the creation of two German republics: a Federal
Republic of Germany (FRG) in the Western Occupied Zones
and a German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the Eastern Zone
occupied by the Soviet Union. The new state of West Germany
(FRG), although administered by a federal government and a
parliament in Bonn, lacked the status of a sovereign state as
ultimate sovereignty was vested in the Allied High Commission
(McGeehan, 1971: pp. 12-13). In 1949 Germany’s economic
recovery was not considered dangerous even by France because
of the unanimous official agreement on continued demilitariza-
tion. All allied controls that were retained after the establish-
ment of the Federal Republic were considered temporary, with
the exception on security matters which, on the policy level,
disarmament was to be permanent (Campbell, 1949: pp. 490-
The three occupying powers of West Germany were agreed
that there was a German problem and that the problem had to
be managed somehow. As a point of fact, one of the important
reasons for the United States sponsoring the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO), and one of the French justifica-
tions for joining the organization, was the conviction that it
would be beneficial in respect of managing the German prob-
lem. But it was on how this management of the German prob-
lem was to be achieved that both powers parted ways. For the
United States, one of the most important functions of NATO
included integration of Germany. This United States position
was spelt in a report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Rela
tions on the North Atlantic Treaty, which read:
While Germany is not a party to the North Atlantic Treaty
the impact of the treaty upon Germany’s future will be
highly important. The committee believes it may make
possible a solution of the German problem and a con-
structive integration of Germany into Western Europe
(US Department of State, 1957: p. 850).
France, on the other hand, held a point of view at variance
with that of the United States. France would not have ratified
the NATO treaty had the National Assembly not been assured
that there was no possibility of Germany becoming a member
of NATO. The French government had announced as early as
1949 that it would renounce its membership rather than accept
Germany (Furniss, 1960: p. 38).
French vs American Perception of Germany
The fact that the United States and France perceived differ-
ently the role of a revived Germany in world affairs is under-
standable. Factors such as geographical location and historical
experience, among others, influenced the attitudes and policy
choices of both countries. France had Germany as neighbor to
the northeast; the United States was far-removed from the con-
tinent, separated from Europe by the Atlantic Ocean. Twice in
the twentieth century France had borne the brunt of Germany’s
military aggression. The same could not be said of the United
States. The recent past was thus still too fresh in the French
memory for her to even contemplate the idea of Germans bear-
ing arms; not even in the context of the NATO framework. On
the other hand, the growing military strength of the Soviet Un-
ion in Eastern Europe, and the memory of the harsh peace dic-
tated to Germany after World War I loomed large in American
thinking and veered the United States toward the integration of
Germany in the W estern alliance.
The Occupation Statute, also known as the Petersburg Agree-
ment, signed by Konrad Adenauer and the three High Commis-
sioners at the Petersburg Hotel in Bonn on November 22, 1949
contained reciprocal agreements by which Germany pledged
“to maintain the demilitarization of the Federal territory and to
endeavor by all means in its power to prevent the re-creation of
armed forces of any kind” (Onslow, 1951: p. 450). Behind this
façade of formal agreement the United States and Britain
tended towards the return of Germany to an equal status other
than military affairs. In contrast, the French were opposed to
German equality in any area. This French attitude towards Ger-
many prompted Dean Acheson to observe that “France was in
the grip of an inferior neurosis” (Acheson, 1961: p. 33). There
was little doubt about the opposition of Britain and France to
the rearmament of Germany; it was however rumored that the
United States was inclined to accept the rearmament of Ger-
many (Onslow, 1951: pp. 451-452).
The rise of the Soviet Union after 1945 presented the main
potential threat to the security and stability of Europe. But the
perception and magnitude of the threat differed in Europe and
the United States. Whereas Washington perceived the Soviet
Union as a major threat to European stability, such a perception
had not taken hold of continental and especially French think-
ing. It was much easier for the United States to be whole-
heartedly opposed to communism: she hardly had any Commu-
nists at home. In France 20 per cent of the voters were Com-
munists; 30 per cent were professed Marxists. This reality of
familiarity with communism made the French more tolerant,
even as this thinking ran counter to the conventional assump-
tion of the time that the numerical superiority of Communists in
any country constituted a threat (Guerard, 1959: p. 496). The
French sense of insecurity, which seemed to reflect their mili-
tary inferiority vis-à-vis Germany, was rooted in historical and
psychological r eality, even if it appeared somewhat exaggerat ed
in the conditions that prevailed in post-war Europe. Given this
state of affairs, therefore, it was plausible that “in the absence
of a more encompassing political framework, ‘equality’ for
Germany would mean the end of superiority for France” (Mc-
Geehan, 1971: p. 14). Be that as it may, the French security
concern vis-à-vis Germany propelled her toward devising secu-
rity arrangements designed to address and redress it.
The Schuman Plan
The Schuman Plan of May 1950 was France’s first attempt at
devising a security plan. It was initiated in response to French
security concerns, namely to prevent another invasion by Ger-
many. The prospect of a potentially powerful Federal Republic
of Germany participating in the international system without
any specifically European controls was a source of trepidation
for France. It was against this background that Robert Schuman,
the French Foreign Minister, presented Jean Monnet’s proposal
to put all of France and Germany’s steel and coal production in
an organization under common authority which would also be
open to other European countries (Gowland, 2006: p. 279). The
Schuman Plan’s ultimate goal was to bind up German steel and
coal production to the rest of Europe, which would provide for
setting up common foundations for economic development as a
first step in the federation of Europe. This process, the French
believed, would change the destinies of regions that had been
devoted to manufacturing munitions of war (See Royal Institute
for International Affairs, 1950: pp. 315-317). The Schuman
Plan met two immediate needs of Europe and France in the
post-war era: it answered the call of advocates for European
unity to enable the continent play a major role in international
affairs, and France’s need for the integration of Germany within
a larger European framework so as to offer a meaningful guar-
antee against renewed German aggression (Tint, 1972: p. 47).
France feared that the United States was getting soft on Ger-
many and that American policy was not sufficiently constant,
even though it had been fairly consistent until the outbreak of
the Korean War (McGeehan, 1971: p. 15). The highest Ameri-
can officials had often repeated the American commitment to
keep Germany disarmed. On April 6, Secretary of State Dean
Acheson declared that “the United States has firm international
commitments, both for German disarmament and against Ger-
man rearmament, and there is no change in the position” (On-
slow, 1951: p. 455). High Commissioner McCloy reiterated this
on April 22 when he said that “our fixed policy has been to
impose and maintain effective controls against the revival of a
German war machine…” (Quoted in Department of State Bul-
letin, 1950: pp. 587-588). Schuman’s proposal was ostensibly
not so much an economic but political proposal. Robert Schu-
man had written to the West German Chancellor Konrad Ade-
nauer that the proposal was designed “to eliminate all risk of
war and substitute for a ruinous rivalry an association founded
upon common interest,” and “to join in a permanent work of
peace two nations which for centuries have faced each other in
bloody rivalry” (Adenauer, 1966: p. 257).
Named after the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman,
the Schuman Plan was the basis of the treaty signed on April 18,
1951 that established the European Coal and Steal Community
(ECSC). But the brain behind the Plan was Jean Monet who, at
the creation of the ECSC High Authority at Luxembourg in
August 1952, became its president (Grosser, 1961: pp. 233-
234). Commenting on the birth of the Schuman Plan, François
Fontaine wrote: “Europe is born of a meeting: one day, a man
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 25
had an idea and he communicated it to a man who had power
and the next day the man exercised his power by proposing the
idea to the people of Europe” (Fontaine, 1956: p. 99). But the
Schuman Plan never materialized as Schuman first envisioned
it. The invasion of South Korea by the Communist North on
June 25, 1950 shattered that vision and ushered in its place the
question of German rearmament, barely five years after the
close of the Second World War. Robert Schuman had hoped
that the ECSC would prepare the way for the gradual extension
of European integration, a program which took its initial impe-
tus in 1948 from the European Movement’s call for the political
unification of Europe (Grosser, 1961: p. 231).
Robert Schuman acknowledged in 1950, that “We would
have preferred to build up the economic and political founda-
tion a little further first, before starting on the military structure.
But we have no choice in the matter; our tasks have been im-
posed on us” (Willis, 1968: p. 130) by the Korean War. Such
then was the state of international politics, with circumstances
and events prevailing over the abilities of statesmen to control.
In the latter part of 1950, impelled by the Korea War, the
United States pressed the rearmament of western Germany
upon Great Britain and France and secured in September of that
year the reluctant consent of the British Foreign Minister Ernest
Bevin and his French counterpart Robert Schuman, the adop-
tion in principle of this policy (Calvocoressi, 1954: p. 105; Wil-
lis, 1968: pp. 133-134). The rearmament of Germany was par-
ticularly disagreeable to France, and American insistence on it
almost caused the fall of Bidault’s government, but for the fact
that the French Council of Ministers managed to reach an
agreement on a new set of proposals which constituted an al-
ternative to the policy sponsored by Washington. On October
24, 1950, Prime Minister René Pleven announced the proposals
to the National Assembly. These proposals came to be known
as the Pleven Plan (Calvocoressi, 1954: p. 163), which pro-
posed the establishment of the European Defense Community
France’s Fourth Republic and the EDC
In the aftermath of the Liberation of France, the solidarity
that was created among the political parties of the Resistance
occasioned a reconciliation of parties that had formerly been
op- posed to each other. In the prevailing climate of the time, it
was natural that the provisional government formed by General
Charles de Gaulle should have been what Léon Blum charac-
terized in 1938 as a government of “national unanimity” (Go-
guel, 1952: p. 6), which included both Moderates and Commu-
nists. De Gaulle adopted this formula when he formed his gov-
ernment in November 1945, after the election of the First Con-
stituent Assembly. From that point on, however, “national una-
nimity” became no more than a fiction. No sooner had the war-
time comrades consumed their victory and regrouped their
forces than the political tendencies of each political party re-
surface and assume proportions of old. And so they began to
squabble among themselves.
It soon became obvious that the ruling elite was divided over
the form the new Republic would take. The Communist party
that had won big in the elections of October 1945, 26.5 per cent
of the votes, thus became the largest political party in France. A
result of this Communist victory was apprehension among
many Moderates who feared that the grip of the Communists
and Socialists on the government and the Assembly would
produce some revolutionary changes in the political system and
economic structure. The majority of radicals shared this fears,
but were also suspicious of General de Gaulle’s tendencies to
exercise personal power. The Communists had been opposed to
de Gaulle since 1944. Although represented in the Assembly
and the provisional government, they were biding their time,
waiting for the right moment to assure themselves of influence
in the Assembly and government, and then move to dislodge de
Gaulle whose personal authority stood in their way. Indeed,
only the Popular Republicans and the Socialists seemed to be
genuinely in favor of the governmental formula that was cre-
ated in 1944 (Goguel, 1952: pp. 6-7).
At this juncture in French history, France needed a leader
who could play the role of mediator. But the temperament of
Gen. de Gaulle made him unfit for that role. Instead of mediat-
ing among the quarrelsome political parties, de Gaulle con-
stantly tried to impose his views, especially on the constitu-
tional question. Debate on the Constitution of the Fourth Re-
public centered on which branch of government should exercise
more power: the legislative or executive? Some members of the
Assembly urged greater stability through a strong executive;
others, notably the Communists, favored concentrating power
in a unicameral legislature subject to grassroots control by vot-
ers. De Gaulle remained aloof from this controversy, even
though it was obvious that he favored a strong presidency.
When de Gaulle discovered that his preference would not be
accepted, he abruptly resigned his post as provisional president,
probably in the hope that a wave of public support would bring
him back to power with a mandate to impose his constitutional
ideas. De Gaulle had miscalculated, for the public, stunned and
confused, failed to act. Three days later the representatives of
the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP) reached an agre e-
ment with the Socialist and Communist parties for a tripartite
government to be presided over by the Socialist Felix Gouin, at
the time president of the Constituent Assembly (Chapsal, 1966:
p. 117; Goguel, 1952: pp. 6-7). Thus was born the Fourth Re-
public in 1946.
Confusion and Instability
Born of confusion and ideological disharmonies, these traits
were to define the Fourth Republic throughout its duration from
1946 to 1958. The republic was characterized by instability of
governments, with one government replacing another in a mat-
ter of months. Two of the longest serving prime ministers,
Henri Queuille from September 1948 to October 1949, and Guy
Mollet from January 1956 to May 1957 (Chapsal, 1966: pp.
180 and 277), “are considered as veritable Methuselahs among
premiers, because they managed to wobble and totter uneasily
for a whole year” (Op. cit., Guerard, 1959: p. 449). The gov-
ernmental instability that France suffered from 1946 to 1958 re-
sulted from the defects of the constitution. Certainly, the con-
stitution was not a good one, and a defective constitution would
necessarily lead to bad functioning of the political system. But
it does not necessarily follow that a good constitution would
lead to the crafting of good policy if the events and the politi-
cians are otherwise disposed (See Chapsal, 1966: p. 135).
It was in this charged atmosphere of gamesmanship and
party politics at its worst that René Pleven proposed the Pleven
Plan on October 24, 1950, for an integrated European army in-
corporating the armies of six nations, including Germany and
Italy (Goormaghtigh, 1954: p. 97; Kanter, 1970: p. 203). The
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
plan provided for the creation of a European army under a min-
ister of defense who would be responsible to supranational po-
litical authorities. Under the plan, each country was to build up
a force of its own at the outset, and Germany was to build up a
force for its own defense on land. A European ministry was to
be organized to work in close cooperation with defense minis-
ters of other participating countries. Great Britain and the Scan-
dinavian countries were expected to participate. René Pleven
was careful to point out that those countries with overseas com-
mitments would be entitled to reserve forces which would not
be integrated. Germany would not have “contingents” but only
small “units”. The European minister would be assisted by a
defense council, and both would have to report to an assembly
which could be that of the Coal and Steel Community (Goor-
maghtigh, 1954: p. 97).
Although the plan for the creation of the EDC was supported
in the French National Assembly by a vote of 348 to 224
(Willis, 1968: p. 132), the Assembly clearly stated that it re-
mained opposed to the reconstitution of a German army and
general staff by 402 to 168 votes (Goormaghtigh, 1954: p. 98).
Two years later in May 1952, the government of Pinay signed
the treaty creating the European Defense Community (See Kan-
ter, 1970: p. 203; Chapsal, 1966: p. 244). Since then no other
French government took the initiative to present the treaty to
the National Assembly for ratification (Calvocoressi, 1954: p.
50). By late 1954 France, the originator of the concept that led
to the establishment of EDC was the only participating country
that had not ratified the treaty. At this juncture the EDC had
become a somewhat risky affair, assuming what Chapsal re-
ferred to as the likeness of a “religious war” (Op. cit., Chapsal,
1966: p. 244). A succession of French Prime Ministers simply
refused to ask the National Assembly to approve the instrument
to which the French government has set its hand and seal (Cal-
vocoressi, 1954: p. 50). It was thus left to Pierre Mendès France
to dare what his predecessors could not do. It is said that Men-
dès France’s immediate pre decessor, Joseph Laniel who served
as prime minister from June 28, 1953 to June 19, 1954, had
admonished him not to bring the treaty before the Assembly
because: “There is not a majority for this treaty. Do not try to
obtain its ratification” (Quoted by Lacouture, 1984: p. 266).
Mendès France listened to Laniel but he did not heed this ad-
The Politics of Mendès France
Pierre Mendès France was a French statesman, lawyer, and
economist. He rose to the premiership of France in 1954, and
though his government lasted only seven months, Mendès
France exerted energetic leadership that resulted in extricating
France from Indochina and suggested to people that the Fourth
Republic was impotent primarily because it lacked able and
courageous statesmen. Born to Jewish parents in Paris on Janu-
ary 11, 1907, Mendès France was educated at the University of
Paris, from where he graduated with a doctorate in law and
became the youngest member of the Paris Bar Association in
1928. He joined the Radical Socialist Party, the traditional party
of the French middle-class centre-left in 1924, and practiced
law in Normandy and from 1932 to 1940. Mendès France ser-
ved in the National Assembly as a Radical party deputy from
Eure. At the time the youngest member of that Assembly,
Mendès France’s abilities were instantly recognized. He was
appointed Secretary of Finance in the 1936 Popular Front gov-
ernment of Léon Blum. When the Second World War broke out,
Mendès France joined the air force. He was arrested by the
Vichy government after France capitulated to Nazi Germany on
trumped up charges of desertion and sentenced to six years in
prison. On June 21, 1941, he escaped and made his way to Bri-
tain, and fought in the Free French forces of General Charles de
From Britain, de Gaulle dispatched Mendès France to his
Finance Commission in Algeria, and then appointed him as
head of the French delegation to the 1944 monetary conference
at Bretton Woods. When de Gaulle returned to liberated Paris
in September 1944, he appointed Mendès France as Minister
for National Economy in the provisional government. But Men-
dès France and Finance Minister René Pleven fell-out over in-
flation control policy: Mendès France advocated state interven-
tion through regulation of wages and prices to control inflation,
while Pleven favored free market policies. When de Gaulle sid ed
with Pleven, Mendès France resigned. Nonetheless, because de
Gaulle still valued his abilities, he appointed Mendès France as
a director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and
Development, and as the representative of France in the United
Nations Economic and Social Council.
In the elections of 1946 Mendès France won a seat in the Na-
tional Assembly. By 1950 he had emerged as the most effective
critic of the succession of ineffective governments that were
unable or unwilling to end the war in Indochina. Mendès Franc e
insisted that the war drained France of energy and resources
needed to modernize and invigorate the economy. Conse-
quently, on Sunday, June 13, 1954, he was summoned to the
Elysée by President René Coty. Mendès France was not sur-
prised; he could not have been surprised. No other French poli-
tician had contributed more than he to the fall of the Laniel-
Bidault government, and it is good democratic practice to select
an alternative government, as Coty did, by recourse to an alter-
native approach to democratic political practice offered by
Mendès France (Lacouture, 1984: p. 211).
A Resolute S tatesman
The chief concern of the Fourth Republic was the war in
Indochina. Mendès France had declared to the country that
George Bidault had not done everything to put an end to the
fighting, and that on the contrary Bidault had risked escalating
the war. On the floor of the National Assembly, Bidault had
challenged Mendès France to do better. In this extraordinary
struggle of men and policies, there seemed no other fitting
solution than for the head of state to call on the man who
offered a different course of action. Designated Prime Minister-
elect by President René Coty on June 13, Mendès France was
elected premier on June 18, 1954 by one of the strongest and
most complex majorities in the history of the Fourth Republic.
Members of the national Assembly supported him by 471 votes
to 14. Since de Gaulle, no other Frenchman had so mobilized
public feeling in his favor. Perhaps more admired than loved,
Mendès France was followed by a vast current of opinion
which expected from him initiatives, drive, and impetus (See
Lacouture, 1984: pp. 211, 214 and 265). The personality of
Mendès France evoked certain disquietudes in different quar-
ters. His past in the Popular Front and sympathies for Commu-
nists made Americans extremely concerned “Until the day John
Foster Dulles first met with Mendès France and called him a
“superman” (Op. cit., Chapsal, 1966: p. 238).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 27
In his investiture speech of June 16, 1954, Mendes France
outlined the priorities of his government as follows: First, the
termination of the war in Indochina in 30 days, or else he would
resign; second, the revitalization of the French economy, and;
third, not to delay a decision any longer on the EDC. Strongly
believing that it was the responsibility of his government to
bring the question of ratification of the EDC to the Assembly
and have it decided upon, he told the National Assembly on
June 16 that his government would be one of national renova-
tion and would set things right (Mendès France, 1955: p. 16).
Pursuant to this pledge in forming his cabinet, he conspicuously
departed from the old practice of consultation with the political
parties (Chapsal, 1966: p. 239). As a result, his choice of cabi-
net members did not take place as freely as he would have liked.
The Socialist party, which contained the bulk of his supporters,
refused to participate because of Mendès France’s insistence on
not adhering to the usual procedure of designation by the group,
and because party division over the EDC posed a risk of
break-up in the event it were submitted to the test of power
(Lacouture, 1984: p. 215). French opinion about the EDC was
divided. Raymond Aron wrote that:
From January 1953 to August 1954 took place the greatest
ideological debate France has known since the Dreyfus
affair; its most visible stake was German rearmament, but
its ultimate significance concerned the very existence of
the French national state. Any attempt to sum up the debate
must seem contentious, since each party mingled the pros
and cons of the logically consistent (Aron, 1957: p. 10).
As the debate raged on, it became obvious that the feeling
against the EDC, both in the National Assembly and among the
public, grew stronger. Those who believed that cooperation be-
tween France and Germany was essential for security and pro-
gress of Western Europe continued to support it, but others
remained implacably hostile to the EDC (Calvocoressi, 1954: p.
Negotiating the European Defense Comm unity
The position that Mendès France took was somewhat am-
biguous. His commitment to the EDC was apparently derived
from the fact that it was the French government that had pro-
posed it; and from his fear that the United States and Germany
might present France with a fait accompli—a military arrange-
ment between Washington and Bonn, about which France
would not have been able to do anything. It was against this
fearful prospect that Mendès France struggled but definitely did
not like the idea (Lacouture, 1984: p. 260). From the very start
Mendès France considered the EDC unacceptable in its original
form. So he formed his government with an eye on the EDC, in
such a way that half the cabinet consisted of pro-EDC members
and the other half anti-EDC (Werth, 1957: p. 126). He charged
two of his ministers, Bourges-Maunoury (pro) and General
Koenig (anti) to work on a rapprochement between the oppos-
ing positions (Chapsal, 1966: pp. 244-245). He then proposed a
compromise that he thought would be acceptable to the allies
and most Frenchmen, and this was the object of Mendès
France’s meeting with the other signatories of the EDC treaty in
Brussels from August 19 to 22. From this meeting came the
Brussels protocols which, “by discriminating against Germany,
by allowing members to withdraw from EDC if Germany ever
became united, and by associating Britain closely with the EDC,
and generally weakening the supranational nature of the agree-
ment, (Mendès France) infuriated the EDC ‘purists’, not only in
Belgium and Holland and Germany, but also in France” (Op.
cit., Werth: 1957, p. 126).
While Mendès France was in Brussels negotiating a com-
promise on the EDC, the pro-EDC elements in France, notably
Robert Schuman and Andre Philip, wrote articles in the Figaro
and France-Tireur, respectively, in which they castigated the
Brussels protocols saying that there was a majority in the As-
sembly for the EDC, and claimed that if the treaty was not rati-
fied, it was the fault of the President of the Council (See Chap-
sal, 1966: p. 246)—Mendès France. The EDC “purists” were
determined to stop at nothing in their endeavor to discourage
Mendès France’s counterparts at Brussels from making any
concessions to him. Schuman even directly communicated with
West Germany’s Chancellor Adenauer, telling him that the
EDC would be passed by the French National Assembly if only
the EDC ministers meeting in Brussels prove adamant in their
attitude toward Mendès France. At the same time, pressure
outside of France also came to play heavily on the deliberations
at Brussels.
The opening of the Brussels conference coincided with a
telegram from Winston Churchill, in which the Briton clearly
indicated that whatever happened in Brussels Germany would
be rearmed. Aggravating things even more was the presence of
the United States Ambassador to the European Community,
David Bruce, who encouraged the Belgian Foreign Minister
Paul-Henri Spaak to be uncompromising. This direct British
and United States intervention caused the greatest annoyance to
Mendès France. Ten days after the break down of negotiations
at the Brussels Conference, and Mendès France’s last minute
abortive attempt to have Britain join the EDC; the National
Assembly defeated the EDC by 319 to 264 votes (Werth, 1957:
pp. 126-127). In the aftermath of the failed Brussels Conference,
and a few days before the National Assembly voted on the EDC
proposal, Mendès France had spoken to the French people on
August 24 in these words:
Since returning to Paris, I wanted to re-establish contact
with you, and to tell you that, throughout the difficult pe-
riod, I had not ceased for a moment to think of you, that is,
of the country in whose name I was speaking. That was
why, after making all reasonable concessions, I decided
that I could not accept the proposals that would have
shocked the conscience of so many Frenchmen, and
which were likely to be disavowed by their deputies
(Quoted in Werth, 1957: p. 128).
A man of conviction and of action, Mendès France had de-
cided that his government would not vote, one way or the other,
on the EDC. He was not going to have the EDC ratified in the
form which he had himself condemned before going to Brussels.
It is probable that Mendès France acted from the stand point of
French national interest. If so, then the grand old man Édouard
Herriot, former President of the National Assembly, must to
have said it all when he declared in a voice that seemed to
boom from the depths of French history: “a country that was
not master of its army was not master of its destiny” (Werth,
1957: p. 127).
Why France Rejected the EDC
Why the French rejected the EDC, even though it originated
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 29
in France, has elicited some opinions that attempt to explain the
decision. Some of these have tended to blame the rejection on
the “inconsistent and chaotic politics of France’s Fourth Re-
public”, with special reference to the behavior of the deputies in
the National Assembly. This view maintains that because the
members of the Assembly were ideologically committed and
motivated by personal concerns and individual ambition, the
result was that considerations of political advancement formed
the basis for their voting performance (Kanter, 1970). This is an
important argument, but one that does not consider the his-
torical experience of France and Frenchmen, and which leaves
out the fact that it was Frenchmen, elected by other Frenchmen
in a democratic nation, who voted on the destiny of France by
rejecting the EDC. Perhaps the National Assembly vote was a
bad choice in the eyes of the outside world; but it was never-
theless the choice of France.
Others have sought to explain the French action by reference
to the delay in presenting the EDC proposal to the National
Assembly for ratification, and change in the composition of that
body from political parties which favored the EDC to parties
that opposed it. This trend showed an absolute and relative
decline of the political parties and individual statesmen most
favorable to the European idea. By 1954, at the time of the vote,
this perspective contends, the parties and statesmen most fa-
vorably disposed to the EDC and responsible for initiating it
were either in the opposition or out of the government (Fauvet,
1957). While this explanation reflects the evolution of political
parties and the attitudes of individual politicians who were sup-
portive of the EDC proposal in government and the National
Assembly, one is hard pressed to understand why in 1952, im-
mediately after the treaty was signed, the Pinay government
failed to seek its ratification. Again, was any French statesman,
from the inception of the EDC idea by René Pleven in 1950, to
its ultimate defeat during the Mendès-France government in
1954, actually favorably disposed to the EDC to stake out his
reputation for it? If so, why did a man of stature like Robert
Schuman, for example, not struggle to have it ratified in 1952
and 1953? It is true that the constellation of political parties and
representatives in the National Assembly did change; and that
the initiators of the EDC were no longer in government. But
these changes do not quite explain why the treaty was defeated.
A plausible explanation can be derived France’s concerns
about the changed state of international relations in 1954. The
threat of Soviet aggression, so obvious at the time when the
EDC treaty was signed in 1952, had by 1954 diminished con-
siderably. Hence there was no longer the same military need for
a substantial contribution of German forces to the defense of
Western Europe. This sense of security among the French was
greatly enhanced after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 (Cal-
vocoressi, 1954: pp. 137-138). Also influencing the French de-
cision to reject the EDC was their ever-present fear of German
aggression. The EDC entailed the formation of 12 divisions of
German military forces because “European military integration
was only realized on the army corps level, and for the Commis-
sariat on the administrative level. Those who opposed the rear-
mament of Germany had good reason to denounce, behind the
EDC camouflage, the revival of the Wehrmacht” (Aron, 1957:
p. 11).
The French decision to reject the EDC was deeply rooted in
the consideration of their national interest. France spoke through
er National Assembly, through the representatives of the peo-
ple, and through the government represented by Pierre Mendès
France. Within Europe, Britain provided the only security blan-
ket that France desired. And though Britain was solemnly bound
to France by a whole series of treaties, the English were bound
but not fully committed. France wanted Britain not just as a
friendly outsider but as a part and parcel of the European sys-
tem of which Britain was the keystone (Guerard, 1959: p. 498).
When Britain refused to take her proper place among the na-
tions of Europe, France had no other choice but to say no to
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