Today in History
27.5.1952: European defence community
Both victorious powers feared, following the outbreak of the Korean War, that the Soviet Union wanted to extend its sphere of influence. The Europeans were designated the task of repelling an assault upon western Europe. Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was in favor of German rearmament.

"The Germans must be clear in their own minds that they cannot expect that the United States, Canada and the western European countries will make the sacrifices that are necessary when creating this kind of defensive front while Germany makes no contribution of its own," Adenauer said.

The French were sceptical towards a west European alliance with German soldiers. Yet it was their prime minister, René Pleven, who submitted the plan for a European defence community at the end of October 1950.

"When the French prime minister proclaimed this," Berlin historian Michael Lemke explains, "he was trying to take the bull by the horns, seizing the initiative in order to at least control something that could no longer be prevented."

Pleven proposed a western European army should be assembled, made up of Italy, France, the Benelux countries and the Federal Republic of Germany. Yet the proposal had one flaw.

"Adenauer immediately recognized that the West Germans could not be equal partners within this alliance, but actually the leadership and also the size of the contingents should be controlled by the others, i.e. France," says Lemke.

Following protracted negotiations, Adenauer managed to attain equal rights for the Germans. In addition, West Germany was to attain sovereignty upon joining the defence community. Yet even this promise did not prevent communists, the trade unions, the churches and the Social Democrats from protesting against German rearmament.

"People say that Adenauer would not have been able to win the election if it had taken place in 1950 or 1951 against the backdrop of this issue," Lemke says.

His most high-profile opponent was the former home secretary Gustav Heinemann, who took his retirement in protest against AdenauerÂ’s armament plans. The opponents of rearmament refer to Germany's Basic Constitutional Law, which only permits the occupying powers to defend Germany.

Lemke explained how the mood was on the ground. "A lot of people said, yes that will, of course, exacerbate the division of Germany if we West Germans join a European defence community. Yet this did not make the Russians any more inclined to consent to reunification and free elections."

On the other hand, Adenauer believed that only a strong western European army would force the Soviet Union to take part in negotiations. On May 27, 1952, his foreign minister signed the Western European Defence Community Treaty. The President of the GDR, Wilhelm Pieck, spoke up against the alliance.

"While we are untiringly working to achieve peaceful reconstruction, a criminal clique in the west of our home is in the process of driving our German people into a third world war, engineered by the American armaments industry bosses," Pieck said.

Yet the GDR was already secretly arming itself at this time. The parliaments of the western European countries successively ratified the defence community treaty with the exception of the French. On August 30, 1954, the French parliament definitively refused to consent to it. This meant that the attempts to form a European defence community had failed.

"The collapse was certainly first and foremost detrimental to the idea of the European Union, as this was more or less meant to be the essential element of the idea behind the European Union," Lemke says.

Nevertheless, Germany formed the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) and became a member of NATO. The eastern block reacted with the formation of its defence initiative, the Warsaw Pact. The Cold War had begun.
Zitat des Tages
Zitat des Tages
The Russian city of St Petersburg was founded on 27 May 1703. What was it called during Soviet times?