History / News

Professor spotlights one of EU’s most important men

Jean Monnet is a little known, but important, actor in the establishment of the European Union. Photo: Courtesy European Commission Audio Visual Service

Spend 90 minutes with law professor Don Smith and you will know “The Rest of the Story.”

Like the popular Paul Harvey radio segment that shed new light on figures and events lost to history, Smith’s latest work tells the rest of the story about Jean Monnet.

It’s a documentary that tells how Monnet, the son of a French cognac maker with little formal education, went on to change the world. But while he became a key figure in helping end European continental conflicts by stabilizing economies and building community and international collaboration, most people have never heard of Monnet.

“I got interested in him while working on another project,” says Smith, a scholar of European Union law at DU’s Sturm College of Law. “The more I learned, the more interested I became.”

At the end of 18 months of work, Smith has produced Jean Monnet: Father of Europe, just in time for the 60th anniversary of Monnet’s greatest triumph.

Monnet’s formal schooling ended at 16 when his father sent him to England to learn English as a preparatory step in selling the family’s cognac outside of France. He eventually traveled to North America and developed a congenial sales technique that helped the family grow its market. He watched, he listened and he learned what inspires collaboration.

After World War II as Europe struggled to rebuild from a second devastating conflict in 30 years, Monnet realized that international relations based on politics and alliances and personal relationships offered only a fragile foundation for peace. But, he surmised, if European nations had strong economic ties that were underpinned by “common institutions,” those interconnected industries and commercial relationships might foster understanding and make it literally too expensive to go to war.

In 1950, he unveiled a plan where countries would cede some of their sovereign control of their coal and steel industries to an international panel in exchange for prosperity. Free from trade restrictions, tariffs and market maneuvering, the nations could have the fuel and material they needed to rebuild without constant squabbles or additional military action. In addition, such a community would make it impossible for any participating country to build up its own military infrastructure.

On April 18, 1951, his plan creating the European Coal and Steel Community was signed by six nations — France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.

And while some — not least of which were the British — argued at the time it was doomed to fail, Monnet’s plan succeeded. As a model for international collaboration, the community laid the foundation for what has become today’s European Union.

“Monnet is a hero to many people,” says Professor Jan van der Harst of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, in Smith’s documentary. “But at the moment, not many people know him anymore.”

“Sixty years ago, Jean Monnet invented the European Community, or the idea of unity in Europe, by building a community of interests,” says Julien Gascard, a lecturer at the home where Jean Monnet lived and now is a museum. Jean Monnet is one of the most important founding fathers of Europe.”

Smith says he wanted to craft a film that shared a little-known historical figure before he was completely forgotten, and by getting to work on a documentary immediately, he had the chance to interview some of Monnet’s contemporaries and collaborators. But time was running out. Two of his interview subjects died before the documentary was completed.

The work was done painstakingly as Smith studied Monnet’s papers, borrowed old photographs and film clips and hunted down the his collaborators. Then he condensed all that down to 90 minutes of footage, penned a script and compiled everything in his simple iMovie program on an Apple computer.

While he funded most of the work out of his own pocket, Smith had the help of a $2,000 DU internationalization grant. DU law students also assisted, including Lauren Anderson, who did the voice-overs; Tim Barnaud, who helped with French translations; and Eric Cheong, who helped with copyright and fair use issues. He also credits the help of many at the Sturm College of Law and a multitude of European agencies, including three dedicated to preserving Monnet’s memory: the Association Jean Monnet; Centre d’Estudes Européen Jean Monnet; and the Fondation Jean Monnet pour l’Europe.

“I wanted to share this piece of history and make it more accessible to people all over the world. There isn’t anything new I was going to say about Jean Monnet, but I wanted to take the information that is out there and present it in a way that can help people understand and remember,” Smith says. “Working on this has given me a completely different perspective on what I know about the European Union.”


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