EU Federalization: The Briand Plan

Ariste Briand devised the so called Briand plan in 1929. The plan concerned the creation of a federal union of European States within the framework of the League of Nations.

Who was Ariste Briand ?

Ariste Briand

Ariste Briand was a French Statesman. He served 11 times as Prime Minister for France during the time of the French Third Republic. He was born in Nantes, 28th March 1862, and died on 7th March 1932.

Whilst studying at the Nantes Lycée, Briand developed a close relationship with Jules Verne. Briand read Law, and moved into politics, writing articles for the anarchist journal Le Peuple, and became a politically active and prominent membere of the movement for the formation of trade unions. Briand became a leader of the French Socialist Party from 1894, and later declared himself a strong partisan of the union of the Left, aka the Bloc, in order to check reactionary Deputies on the Right.

Briand succeeded Clemenceau as Prime Minister in 1909, serving until 1911. Briand served briefly again as Prime Minister in 1913, and following French defeats in WWI, Briand became both Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in 1915, taking over from René Viviani and Théophile Delcassé respectively. He resigned in 1917 following dispute over the prospective Nivelle Offensive.

In 1921 Briand returned to power and supervised the French Role in the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922. Due to German intransigence which led to failure in reaching agreement over reparations, Briand was succeeded by Raymond Poincaré. Brand’s more conciliatory style made him more acceptable in the wake of the Ruhr Crisis, and in 1925 he returned to the Quai d’Orsay as Foreign Minister, a role he occupied until his death in 1932.

Briand notably negotiated the Briand-Ceretti Agreement with the Vatican, which gave the French government a role in the appointment of Catholic Bishops, and he shared the Nobel Peace Price with Gustav Stresemann in 1926 for his work on the Locarno Treaties. (The UK’s Austen Chamberlain had received a share of this prize a year earlier for his contribution to these Treaties: The Pact of Locarno – Rhine Pact – ended the dispute between France and Germany over war reparations.)

In 1927, Briand and US Secretary of state Frank B Kellogg settled a universal pact outlawing war which led in 1928 to the Pact of Paris: The Kellogg-Briand Pact (27th August 1928).

The Briand Plan: Roots

Whilst working on the Locarno Treaties, Briand developed a plan for addressing what he saw as a fundamental problem in the structure of Europe for guaranteeing peace post WWI.

On 23rd February 1926, Briand expressed his concern thus:

« Il y aura un moment où l’Europe ne restera plus dans l’état de dispersion où elle est. Elle sera, comme l’Amérique, un État fédéral. Sinon, et cela pour régler une production anarchique, elle va à la catastrophe sociale. Il faudra à un moment donné une espèce d’association d’intérêts qui sera forcément dominée par les préoccupations d’associations politiques, il faudra trouver une formule d’Union fédérale d’Europe comme en Amérique. La France doit se tourner vers un tel avenir »

‘There will be a time when Europe can no longer remain a dispersion of states as it is. It will, like America, become a federal state. Otherwise, like an anarchic production, it will head towards social catastrophe. It will be at some point some kind of association of interests inevitably dominated political concerns and associations, we must find a formula for federal Union Europe like in America. France must turn to such a future.’

Briand did not revisit this concern publicly again until 1929 when he brought his idea into the public and political domain. This started with an address to the Council of the League of Nations in Madrid of that year, followed by Press releases on the 10th July 1929.

On 31st July 1929, Briand addressed the French parliament:

« il y a quatre ans que je réfléchis à ce vaste problème »

‘For four years I have reflected on this vast problem’

In the address he went on to present his plan to the government and discussed the possibility of permanent contact between European governments.

Why did Briand revisit his concerns ?

i) In December 1928 the Council of the League of Nations in Lugano saw confrontation between Stresemann and Zalewski. There was a problem with German minorities separated from Germany as a result of the treaty of Versailles, and German revisionism.,2655823

ii) There was general disappointment with the Kellogg-Briand Pact as it became clear that the law was not working.

iii) The conference of the Hague, 1929 and the Young Report. This caused the estrangement of Briand and Stresemann, a division between France and Germany.

The Briand Plan

Briand formally presented his plan for a European Federation at a speech on 5th September 1929 given to the 10th General Assembly of the League of Nations in Geneva.

« Je pense qu’entre les peuples qui sont géographiquement groupés, comme les peuples d’Europe, il doit exister une sorte de lien fédéral. Ces peuples doivent avoir à tout instant la possibilité d’entrer en contact, de discuter de leurs intérêts communs, de prendre des résolutions communes. Ils doivent, en un mot, établir entre eux un lien de solidarité qui leur permette de faire face, au moment voulu, à des circonstances graves si elles venaient à naître. »

‘I think between peoples who are geographically grouped, as the peoples of Europe, there must be some sort of federal link. These people must have the opportunity at any time to get in touch to discuss their common interests, to take joint resolutions. They must, in short, establish between them a bond of solidarity that enables them to cope, when required, with serious circumstances should they arise.’

« C’est ce lien, messieurs, que je voudrais m’efforcer de créer. »

‘It is this connection, gentlemen, that I would endeavor to create.’

« Évidemment, l’association agir a surtout dans le domaine économique: c’est la nécessité la plus pressante. Je crois qu’on peut en ce domaine, obtenir des succès. Mais je suis sûr aussi qu’au point de vue politique ou au point de vue social, le lien fédéral, sans toucher à la souveraineté d’aucune des nations qui pourraient faire partie d’une telle association, peut être bienfaisant »

‘Obviously, the association has to act especially in the economic field: the most pressing necessity. I think it is in this field, we obtain success. But I am also sure that politically or socially, the federal link, without affecting the sovereignty of any nation that could be part of such an association can be beneficial.’

The French Government issued a memorandum on the Briand Plan on 1st May 1930.

The memorandum raised the following key points:

a) Refuting allegations that the new institution could undermine the League of Nations, Briand believed that a Federal European Union could be created within the framework of the League:

« Il ne s’agit nullement de constituer un groupement européen en dehors de la SdN, mais au contraire d’harmoniser les intérêts européens sous le contrôle et dans l’esprit de la SdN (…)»

‘There is no way to establish a European grouping outside the League of Nations, but rather to harmonize European interests under the control and in the spirit of the League (…)’

b) Refuting possible hostility of the project to other states outside Europe

« L’abolition des douanes intérieures ne signifie pas l’instauration aux limites de la communauté d’une «barrière plus rigoureuse». »

‘The abolition of internal customs does not mean establishing the boundaries of the community to a “more rigorous barrier”.’

c) No loss of sovereignty on the part of Member States

« C’est sur le plan de la souveraineté absolue et de l’entière indépendance politique que doit être réalisée l’entente entre nations européennes. »

‘This is in terms of the absolute sovereignty and full political independence must be achieved agreement between the European nations.’

The memorandum presented some concrete proposals:

  • Development of a “pact of general political character”

« Assurer à l’Union européenne les organes indispensables à l’accomplissement de sa tâche. »

‘Ensuring the indispensible organs of the European Union for the accomplishment of its task.’

… and suggested some organs which would be required for the European Union:

  • European Conference
  • Political Committee
  • Secretariat

Key points on the philosophy and approach to Federalization were also stated:

« Subordination du problème économique au problème politique. »

  • « Fédération fondée sur l’idée d’union et non d’unité »
  • « Extension progressive à toute la communauté européenne de la politique de garanties internationales inaugurée à Locarno »

‘Subordination of the economic problem to political problems.’

  • ‘Federation based on the idea of union and not unity “
  • ‘Progressive extension to the entire European community of the international polical guaranties inaugurated at Locarno’

The prescription of « Fédération fondée sur l’idée d’union et non d’unité » : Federation of Union not Unity, is of fundamental importance to Briand’s idea, and indeed Federalization for Europe.

This builds on the model of Federation described by Proudhon in ‘Du Principe Fédératif’, 1863.

The full text is here in French:

A translation of the core passages in English here:

Proudhon considers government to derive from systems of organization driven by two diametrically opposed forces: Authority and Liberty. The dialectic which exists between these desires, reflected by a societies struggle between faith and reason, result in individual systems of government emerging which Proudhon considers to be ‘sketches’.

Proudhon isolates Federation in Chapter VII as a more certain system of government which can bind the sketches together through contract and alliance in order to ensure peace, mutual economic prosperity and stability.

An important point which Proudhon argues is that Federation should stabilize the balance of the forces of authority and liberty preventing polarization occurring within Federated members, and indeed the Federal entity itself. Briand’s plan was broadly disrupted in 1930’s Europe as European States polarized along these lines, leading to a break down in the international order and ultimately WWII: The social catastrophe of which Briand foresaw the possibility of in 1926 was then realized.

Federal authority requires the consent of member States in recognizing the sovereignty of the Federal entity. Proudhon points out that such consent does not necessitate the release of sovereignty by member states. The Federal authority should respect the sovereignty of member States as per the contract that has been entered into when the member States recognized the Federal authority.

In the United States of America, the respect of member State sovereignty by the Federal Sovereign is codified in the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution:

In the aftermath of WWII, when speaking in Zurich 1946, Churchill modified Briand’s vision slightly when he stated:

‘The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause.

The ancient states and principalities of Germany, freely joined together for mutual convenience in a federal system, might each take their individual place among the United States of Europe.’

There is a slight problem here as this increases the requirement for the Federal Authority to be authoritarian.

That was an understandable desire in the aftermath of WWII, but for modern liberal Europe after 70 years of peace, such an expression by a Federal Authority would likely result in reaction among prospective member States which would lead to their internal polarization to either meet or reject the demands of the Federal authority. That is being seen at this time of writing and may lead directly to the scenario which played out in 1930’s Europe that resulted in WWII.

The memorandum goes on to speak about how federation could be realized:

« rapprochement des économies européennes réalisé sous la responsabilité politique des gouvernements solidaires »

  • « pacte de solidarité économique »dont le but final serait l’ « établissement d’un marché commun pour l’élévation au maximum du niveau de bien-être humain sur l’ensemble des territoires de la Communauté européenne. »

‘Harmonization of European economies performed under the political responsibility of supporting governments’

  • ‘Economic solidarity pact’ whose ultimate goal is the ‘Establishment of a common market for the maximum elevation of the level of human well-being in all the territories of the European Community.’

« organisation rationnelle de la production et des échanges européens par voie de libération progressive et de simplification méthodique de la circulation des marchandises, des capitaux et des personnes»

‘rational organization of production and European trade through progressive liberalization and simplification of the methodical movement of goods, capital and persons’

The responses of the other 26 European Governments to the French Memorandum are documented here:

At the Eleventh Assembly of the League of Nations, between 11-17 September 1930 the French plan was discussed.

On September 11th, A report was issued on the Briand Plan which led to the creation of the Commission of Enquiry for European Union (CEUE) on the 17th September 1930.

The first session fo the CEUE was held on September 3rd, and the CEUE operated until 1932, ending with the death of Briand in March of that year.

A report on the constitution, organization and procedure of the CEUE to the League of Nations:

A report by the CEUE to the League of Nations on a draft economic non-aggression pact is available here:

There is more information on the CEUE and ‘United States of Europe’ as proposed by Briand in the book:

Post-War German-Austrian Relations, The Anschluss Movement, 1918-1936, by M Margaret Ball

After the death of Briand the Federalization of Europe was put on hold. This was in part due to the loss of its key proponent, but also due to the events which led Europe to WWII.

Briand’s chief of staff, Alexis Leger, also known as Saint-John Perse, gave a speech in Hommage to Braind at the University of New York, on 28th March 1942:

Alexis had been exiled by the Vichy government in 1940 and moved to the US. He had served as a the French diplomat to China, and is more widely known as a poet.

Leger had come to prominence previously when the French press on the right (Le Figaro) and extreme right (L’Action française) had attempted to destablize him and Briand’s Memorandum in what is known as the ‘Case de Noblet-Briand-Leger’ This dated back to 1928, initiated when a confidential document was leaked in the Hearst press of the US leading to the derailing of the Franco-British negotiations by painting them as being against Germany. It should be understood that Hearst supported the Nazi regime at the time, and the French Right used such tactics against the Left.

The 3rd secretary of the Embassy, Jean de Noblet, was held responsible for the leak, working with a journalist acting on behalf of Hearst. This led to Hearst himself being turned away at the French border in 1930.

The ideas within the Briand plan were revived in Europe after WWII and were expressed by Churchill and Monnet in particular.

The main proponent of an earlier and competing idea for European Union, the Paneuropean Union, Count Richard Nikolaus von Coudenhove-Kalergi, attempted to contact Leger in the US. Kalergi himself was in the US at that time.

The Paneuropean Union is described here:

Note: More background is provided in the ‘Post-War German-Austrian Relations, The Anschluss Movement, 1918-1936’ chapter cited above, including the detail that the Paneuropean model sought to explicitly exclude England and Russia from its vision for European Union.

Churchill’s speech in Zurich on 19th September 1946, speaking of the tragedy of Europe, asked essentially the same question after the fact that Briand had before in 1926:

‘What is this sovereign remedy?

It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.

We must build a kind of United States of Europe.

In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.’

Jean Monnet re-formulated the idea in his work of 1949. Parts of Monnet’s work have themselves come under strange focus recently:




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