The Schuman Plan and the British Abdication of Leadership in Europe

Dell, Edmund
Date published: 
January 1995

This book provides the first detailed examination of the Attlee government's rejection of British participation in the Schuman Plan in 1950, which proposed the establishment of a common market for steel and coal as a way of avoiding future Franco-German conflict. This also represented Britain's rejection of a leading role in fashioning European p olitical and economic intergration. Many received myths are contested: the Schuman Plan was not a bolt from the blue; domestic political circumstances did not make it impossible for Britain to join; participation would not have been incompatible with Britain's global and Commonwealth roles. Edmund Dell assesses Ernest Bevin's conduct as Foreign Secretary during this last year of his life: in declining health but still believing himself indispensable, he was arrogantly mistaken about the Schuman plan and lacked colleagues of comparable stature able to tell him he was wrong. The only hope was Stafford Cripps, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he was on the point of resignation due to ill-health and lacked the energy to press his doubts. Ministerial inadequacy was compounded by the Foreign Office, the leading officials in which were no less arrogant and quite as blind to the implications of the proposal. The consequence was a major policy failure which has influenced Britai n's relations with its European partners right up to the present. Edmund Dell works with archival evidence, and the memoirs of participants, to place these events in the context of the 'big questions' dominating British policy formation: security, the dollar shortage, and the difficult relationship with an American administration intent both on attacking the sterling area and pressing for European federation. The result is an incisive revaluation of a key episode in post-war European history.

This book examines the Attlee government's rejection of the Schuman Plan and reassesses Bevan's conduct as foreign secretary. The story is placed in the context of the `big questions' dominating British policy formation: security, the dollar shortage, the American attack on the sterling area, and pressure for European integration.