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Marshall Plan: US Involvement in European Integration


For the past six decades, efforts at European economic and political integration have been underway with enormous successes. Throughout these undertakings, the United States has been a strong supporter of European integration. It was the US that began the European integration process back in 1947 by necessitating that the European countries work together on their road to economic recovery. These efforts by the US were hugely successful and they resulted in the formation of economic cooperation organizations such as the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). Such bodies were responsible for the speedy recovery of the European economy and the move towards a deeper integration among the nations.

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The last two decades have been characterized by the acceleration of European integration efforts with the attempts at implementing a feasible Constitution for the European Union being the climax. The role of the US in European affairs has significantly reduced and the influence that the US had over Europe in the Cold War era is slowly fading. This paper shall argue that the importance of the United States in the process of European integration is monumental and should therefore not be ignored. To reinforce this assertion, this paper shall engage in a historical review of the Marshall plan which was initiated by the US and the impact it had on European Integration.

The Marshall Plan: An introduction

The Marshall plan which began in 1948-1951 is hailed as the most successful aid plan to ever be implemented by the US. The plan which was officially referred to as the “European Recovery Program (ERP)” resulted in the successful reconstruction of a Western Europe that had been torn apart by war. Trachtenberg asserts that the Marshall plan, in essence, was a “massive aid program to save European” (63). While historians disagree on the exact extent to which the Marshall plan was responsible for the recovery of Europe, it is generally agreed that the Marshall plan provided a lifeline to the European economy which had been devastated by war.

In addition to this, there is an agreement that the Marshall plan was the birthplace of the European Union and modern European integration can trace its roots to the Marshall plan. The philosophy behind by the plan as articulated by its author, George Marshall was that “US policy should work towards the revival of a working economy in the world to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutes can exist” (Hogan 23). In addition to the economic prosperity that the Marshall Plan intended to bring to Europe, the plan was also aimed at containing the Soviet Union and communism that threatened to encroach on Europe. Aiding Europe presented an opportunity to strengthen the nations and therefore prevent the communist ideological threat.

The view that the Marshall plan is the single decisive factor that resulted in European success, is not unanimous. Some historians, most notable of who are Alan S. Milward argue that the Marshall aid was not necessary since Europe’s economy was already headed towards recovery by 1947 (Milward 238). As such, the massive aid offered by America was not necessary since Europe could have recovered through natural forces.

Chiarella notes that while it is conceivable that the European economy could have recovered without American aid, this recovery would have been slow at best and the standards of living for Europeans would have been significantly lowered in the short-run (22). These hardships which would have inevitably followed would have resulted in political turmoil and possibly a turn towards communism. For this reason, one of the preconditions set for nations before they could receive aid under the Marshall plan was that the particular country had to adopt a capitalistic economy and keep away from the communist way.

US Involvement in European Integration

Ekovich advances that the reason why the United States has viewed European integration favourably is that it views the same from the American economic and political integration which resulted in the unification of the colonies (2). As such, a major goal of the American Marshall Plan implementers was the exporting of the “American dream” to the European states. Chiarella quips that the Marshall Plan was, in essence, an attempt by the Truman Administration to “export New Deal corporatism to Western Europe, convinced that it alone would resolve Europe’s Ills (3).

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The United States was keen to replace the European system of separate sovereign states with a unified order not unlike the one that had led to the formation of the United States (Hogan 293). It can, therefore, be proposed that the idea of a European Union possessing a single currency and a single government would be in line with the American ideal. From this history, it can, therefore, be proposed that the process of European integration is one that the US has constantly backed from the very onset.

The Marshall Plan was the tool that the US used to iron out the differences that existed between the former wartime enemies. Following the war, the two major allies of the United States in the Second World War, France and the British had some misgivings over the integration endeavours. Hogan documents that the British were opposed to the idea of European unification while France was opposed to Germany being integrated into the union (313). The US applied strong diplomatic pressure on Britain to force Her to be supportive of European integration.

The US also fostered peaceful cooperation between France and Germany for were formerly bitter enemies in the Second World War. By doing so, the US ensured the success of the Marshall plan and the European integration plans which would otherwise have broken down due to enmity and suspicion. The peaceful cooperation forced upon the Europeans by the US has been credited for promoting a sense of security in the market which resulted in high investment rates and economic development within the European states (Eichengreen and Bolitho 9). The US can still play a mediatory role in European affairs today and as such, it remains a key partner in the European integration efforts.

Europe has been home to some of the United State’s most reliable and key allies most notably of whom is Britain. In the years following the end of the Second World War, the US viewed the European nations as strategic allies in the region. This was especially so since the Soviet Union had effectively positioned itself as a rival to the Western powers. Hogan states that as a result of the recent war (WWII), the threat that would be posed to American security if Europe was under hostile control would be great. The Marshall plan was, therefore, a bid to contain the Soviets who were threatening to increase their sphere of influence into Western Europe. Ekovich corroborates this fact by stating that American strategists wanted to, through the Marshall Plan, rebuild Europe as a counteraction against communist expansion. In the present time, Western Europe is still a key ally to the United States and their security is as closely related as it was in the past.

The Marshall plan did not deal with the economic and political issues of Europe but it also touched on the issue of security. The plan called for an integration of the European military since the US had come to appreciate the fact that European security was connected to US security. Military integration was in the form of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO was formed as a transatlantic alliance that effectively complemented the Marshall plan and strengthened the economic ties among member nations. This treaty, in essence, bound the member countries and an attack on any member was to evoke a response from all member states.

Trachtenberg states that NATO was proposed as a long-term American commitment to Europe and is aimed towards a greater degree of military integration (120). In recent times, the EU has come up with “The European Defense and Security Policy (EDSP) and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)” both of which are aimed at providing military assistance to the EU states (Cash 13). Ekovich notes that the ESDP and the CFSP are seen by some as a move by the EU to create a competing European security apparatus, therefore, re-nationalizing their security (9). Such endeavours greatly undermine the military unit that is between the US and Europe mostly as a result of NATO.

The Marshall plan was based on the perception by America that the success of Europe was desirable and beneficial to the US. The author of the plan, Secretary of State George Marshall asserted that Europeans had to act jointly in searching for a cure to the problems that had culminated in the two world wars (Ellwood 1). The early efforts of the Marshall Plan were therefore aimed at promoting US economic interest at a global scale and ensuring that the US benefited from its aid efforts through the establishment of strong economic partners in the Europe continent (Lewarne and Snelbecker 19).

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An open and prosperous European market presented to American business leaders an array of fruitful investment opportunities which the US could exploit. Despite the apparent self-interest in America’s Marshall Plan, the plan was mutually beneficial to both the US and European countries. This is still the case today where both parties, the US and the EU, can mutually benefit from trade undertakings with each other.

While the monetary aid that the Marshall Plan availed to the European states was important for the recovery of post-war Europe, the economic policy that the plan attached to the aid was more essential in the eventual recovery (Duisenberg 5). Economic cooperation among member states was one of the premises of the Marshall plan. Lewarne and Snelbecker reiterate that the “Marshall Plan emphasized production and integration of countries into a continent-wide economy” (12).

The past decade has seen a significant shift by the EU from economic integration on a global level. The past decade was characterized by huge economic advances by India and China. In light of these events, the liberalization of international trade and the move towards free trade is relevant for the prosperity of the US and the EU. Cash reveals that the EU and the US are the leading players in global trade and that the two are the largest trading partners to each other. As such, the European nations should continue to work together with the US to maintain the Economic advantage they have had as a result of their cooperation.

Arguably the greatest benefit that has resulted from European integration is that there has been a lasting peace in Western Europe. The Marshall plan called for European integration not only at an economic but also political level. Eichengreen and Boltho hypothesize that without the Marshall plan which forced European nations to reconcile and work together, the continent would have returned to conflict as it had done in the past (43). The European Recovery Program helped to promote a collaborative atmosphere among former enemies. While it is true that America benefited greatly in terms of political ground from the Marshall plan, the European recipients were the greater beneficiaries as it enabled their speedy recovery and sustained peace.

Lessons from the Marshall Plan

Europe integration owes its existence largely to the Marshall plan for it was as a result of this plan that Western European countries began to organize themselves into a bloc. It was American influence that acted as the driving force for integration among Western Europe countries in the immediate post-war years. Bideleux notes that the Marshal plan which was designed to make Western Europe prosperous and self-reliant demanded the revival of West Germany as the economic heart of Europe (23).

Perhaps the most fundamental lesson that can be learnt from the Marshall Plan is that the United States has vested interests in Europe and as such, success for the European nations translates to positive gains for the US. Cash articulates that a non-functional EU trade system which results in internal instability is bad for US investment (9).

Historians agree that part of the motivation behind the European Recovery Program was US self-interest in a stable and prosperous Europe. Hogan summarizes that the Marshall plan indeed “rested squarely on an American conviction that European economic recovery was essential to the long-term interests of the United States” (26). In the present times just like in the years following the Second World War, the American economy has close links with the European one. Ekovick asserts that “American prosperity is intimately connected to European prosperity” (4). A successful and prosperous European integration will, therefore, be beneficial to both the Europeans and the Americans.

Cash reveals that as it currently stands, the European Union is styling itself to gain political, economic and financial weight that will enable it to exert influence on affairs at a global stage to extents equaling a superpower (7). Such a perception is clearly in competition and fact a direct challenge to the stance of the US as the world’s superpower.

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From this analysis of the Marshall plan, it is evident that the Economic and political fortunes of Europe are inseparably tied and as such, a move towards Economic integration which locks out the US will have negative political ramifications. From this, it can be deduced that while Europe can fair without US support or US involvement, the success will not be as great. As such, efforts at European integration should be undertaken with the US playing a major role.

The EU imposes certain values and ideals for all its member countries. Before a country can become a member of the EU, there are certain preconditions such as democracy and economic reforms which are required of the candidate country. This conditioning has contributed greatly to the establishment of democracy and positive economic reforms in EU member states. These are values which the US has through the centuries been working to instil throughout the world. Trachtenberg reveals that the Marshall plan aimed to export the American Ideals to Europe and also foster Economic reforms that would see a reversal in the economic deterioration that characterized postwar Europe (28). European integration, therefore, propagates the values that were begun by the Marshall plan.

Current European integration efforts as advanced by the European Union stand at great risk of protectionism actions. The EU has been notorious of interventionism in trade with anti-dumping measures being imposed against countries which have low production costs and can, therefore, afford to sell their products at very low prices such as China and Vietnam. This EU protectionism poses a significant threat to global trade and is detrimental to development.

A major goal of the Marshall plan was the elimination of wasteful and dangerous economic nationalism which was characteristic of European economies at the time. The Marshall plan aimed at creating large markets which would be efficient and more productive for the good of Europe as well as the US. Eichengreen and Boltho state that under the Marshall plan, all aid recipients were obligated to adopt a Code of Liberalization that was aimed at phasing out discriminatory trade measures (15). Europe should, therefore, avoid regressing to the protectionism and economic nationalism that the Marshall plan sought to eliminate to bring about economic prosperity.


Europe and the United States have a strong historical relationship and the US has always been supportive of European integration. This paper set out to demonstrate the importance of the US in the process of European integration in light of the Marshall plan which was implemented between 1947 and 1951. From the discussions presented in this paper, it is evident that the European Union which is the culmination of all the efforts towards European integration owes its very existence to the United States. This paper has documented the role that the Marshall plan played in the revival of Europe and the subsequent move towards integration. While the paper has taken care to mention that the aid offered by the US was not entirely altruistic but also out of vested economic and political interests by the US, the paper has shown that Europe was the greatest beneficiary to these efforts.

This paper has also shown that the European and US economic well being and political stability are interdependent today just as they were in the early post-war years. History has demonstrated that the US and Europe cannot exist in isolated and that their futures are intricately tied to each other. The actions of the United States have a profound impact on European integration and as such, the European Union should work closely with the US in its integration efforts.

Works Cited

Bideleux, Robert. European integration and disintegration: east and west. Routledge, 1996. Print.

Cash, Bill. “United States Policy on European Integration: An understandable but strategic error since 1990”. The European Journal, 2006.

Duisenberg, C. “Speech at the Marshall Plan Celebration in Washington”. BIS Review 54/1997.

Ekovich, Stephen. American views of European Integration: A Brief History. JEL, 2006.

Eichengreen, Barry and Boltho, Andrea. “The Economic Impact of European Integration”. Centre for Economic Policy Research. 2008.

Ellwood, David. The Marshall Plan: A Strategy that Worked: A new American project to help Western Europe. 2008, Web.

Esposito, C. America’s Feeble Weapon: Funding the Marshall Plan in France and Italy, 1948-50. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994. Print.

Hogan, Michael. The Marshall Plan: America, Britain, and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947-1952, Cambridge University Press, 1987. Print.

Lewarne, Stephen and Snelbecker. J. Economic Governance in War Torn Economies: Lessons Learned from the Marshall Plan to the Reconstruction of Iraq. The Services Group December 2, 2004. Print.

Milward, Allan. Was the Marshall Plan Necessary? DH, 1989. Print.

Trachtenberg, Marc. A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement 1945-1963. Princeton University Press, 1999. Print.

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