The Messina Conference

The Messina Conference in the History of European Integration

The Messina Conference marked a fundamental step in the history of European Integration

Text by Pierre Uri on the draft declaration of the Six
Text by Pierre Uri on the draft declaration of the Six regarding the creation of an united Europe by means of limiting trade restrictions and reducing trade tariffs, 1955

The political climate of the meeting was not the best. On 30 August 1954, the French National Assembly, thanks to the votes of the Gaullist and Communist factions, rejected the proposal for a European Defence Community, as well as for a European Political Community connected to the European Defence Community. Therefore it became necessary to find a common ground so that the European construction could be resumed. The European Coal and Steel Community Member States searched for a new basis for agreement, aware that they could not afford another failure.

The renewed negotiations were the work of the Benelux countries, who, owing to the efforts of the Dutch Foreign Minister Beyen and his counterparts in Belgium and Luxembourg, Spaak and Bech, submitted a memorandum (the so-called Benelux Memorandum) to the French, Italian and West German governments, which would serve as a basis for future negotiations. The document did not exclude the possibility of moving towards a horizontal way of integration leading to the creation of a true common market among the six countries, while the method promoted by Jean Monnet, which advocated integration by individual sectors (e.g. energy or transport), was still on the table. Even Great Britain participated in the early negotiations, later withdrawing from discussions, convinced that the process was destined to fail.

“La politique des six gouvernements est de parvenir progressivement à une fusion de leur marchés nationaux séparés en un ensemble puissant à l’échelle du monde moderne, seul capable d’assurer le plus grand développement de la production et le relèvement le plus rapide du niveau de vie. Cette inté­gration progressive, […] doit être poursuivis dans des conditions qui tiennent compte des structures économiques et des exigences sociales du XXe siècle” 1“The policy of the six governments is to gradually achieve a merger of their separate national markets into a powerful whole on a modern global scale, one capable of ensuring the further development of production and the quickest improvement of the standard of living. This progressive integration […] should be pursued under conditions which take into account the economic structures and social requirements of the twentieth century.” JMDS 95, Historical Archives of the European Union

A meeting was therefore organised with the aim of overcoming the impasse of the European integration process.

Citation

To this end, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gaetano Martino, proposed a Conference that would bring together the Foreign Ministers of the six European Coal and Steel Community Member States. The Conference would take place in Messina and Taormina from 1 to 3 June 1955. The place was chosen by Martino, originally from Messina, principally for electoral reasons.

On the third day of the Conference, an agreement, known as the Messina Resolution, was reached. This document reaffirmed the will of the six Member States to set up a European Common Market and a European Atomic Energy Community.


A first objective was set: it was decided that a study group should be created, composed of experts nominated by the governments and by the European institutions, tasked with verifying the feasibility of the Messina Conference proposals. Paul Henri Spaak was to preside over this committee, which took his name. He was already President of the International European Movement and a strong supporter of Altiero Spinelli in the fight for the European Political Community.

Resolution adopted by the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the ECSC
Resolution adopted by the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the ECSC Member States at Messina, Messina, 1st – 2nd June 1955, RD2, Historical Archives of the European Union

Among the main figures of this phase of negotiations was the French economist Pierre Uri, a close colleague of Jean Monnet, who drafted the preparatory texts for the following negotiation phase, which concluded with the Conference of Venice (29-30 May 1956). The Spaak Committee was tasked with drafting a report on the possibility of creating a European Common Market. This report, which Spaak presented to the Conference of Foreign Ministers in Venice, opened the way to far-reaching solutions, not just with regard to the atomic energy sector, but also concerning the construction of a European Common Market.

On 26 June 1956, in Chateau Val Duchesse, Brussels, the intergovernmental conference began its work preparing the text of the Treaties. The conference, which endorsed the greater part of the Spaak Committee’s proposals, lasted until March 1957 and led to the signing of the Treaties of Rome which, on 25 March 1957, marked the creation of the European Economic Community and of the European Atomic Energy Community.

And so, in the spirit of Messina, we present this exhibition which, we hope, may invoke that same climate of intense collaboration and reciprocal understanding among the current European decision makers.

Group photo of the partecipants of the Conference of Venice
Unknown Author, Conference of Venice, Venice, 29th- 30th May 1956

References   [ + ]

1.“The policy of the six governments is to gradually achieve a merger of their separate national markets into a powerful whole on a modern global scale, one capable of ensuring the further development of production and the quickest improvement of the standard of living. This progressive integration […] should be pursued under conditions which take into account the economic structures and social requirements of the twentieth century.” JMDS 95, Historical Archives of the European Union