Robert Schuman

The French statesman Robert Schuman (1886-1963) was the public author of the plan that pooled the French and German coal and steel industries into the European Coal and Steel Community.

Born in Luxembourg on June 29, 1886, into a prosperous family from Lorraine, Robert Schuman was educated in Germany as a lawyer. Of military age during World War I, he did not serve in the German army, although later his political opponents often made that accusation. After the Treaty of Versailles restored Lorraine to France in 1919, Schuman was elected to the French Parliament, a deputy of the Catholic Popular Democratic party.

Exerting a generally conservative influence, Schuman was a member of the parliamentary finance commission for 17 years and its president in 1940. Undersecretary of state for refugees in the Paul Reynaud government after March 1940, he was arrested by the Gestapo in September and confined at Neustadt. Schuman escaped in 1942 and immediately joined the resistance movement. During this time he played an important role in the creation of the Popular Republican Movement (MRP), which after 1945 replaced his former party as the major organ of French Christian democracy.

Elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1945, Schuman was appointed its finance chairman. Minister of finance under Georges Bidault and Paul Ramadier during 1946-1947, Schuman favored a program of austerity. Becoming prime minister in late 1947 amid widespread Communist-inspired strikes and disorders, Schuman and his interior minister, Jules Moch, stood firm, facing down the Communist challenge and enabling the Fourth Republic to survive its first great crisis. Forced to resign after only 7 months in office, Schuman held the post again for a few days in September 1948.

Schuman earned his greatest fame as foreign minister in 10 successive governments from July 1948 to December 1952. He stood as the foremost advocate of Franco-German reconciliation and European unity. He was the enthusiastic sponsor in 1950 of Jean Monnet's plan for combining French and German coal and steel production, which was later realized with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in June 1952. In 1950 Schuman also launched a plan for an integrated European army, but that project was defeated in the French Chamber in 1954.

In 1958 Schuman was elected first president of the European Parliamentary Assembly, the consultative body of the Common Market, a position in which he served for 2 years. For his efforts in the cause of European unity he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize by the city of Aachen in 1958 and the Erasmus Prize by the European Cultural Foundation in 1959. Schuman died near Metz on Sept. 4, 1963, after a long illness.

Further Reading on Robert Schuman

There is no biography of Schuman in English. His role in the Fourth Republic is extensively discussed in Alexander Werth, France, 1940-1955 (1956). Useful works for historical background are Herbert Luethy, France against Herself (trans. 1955); John T. Marcus, Neutralism and Nationalism in France (1958); and Frederick F. Ritsch, The French Left and the European Idea, 1947-1949 (1966).