History of US-EU Relations: 1

I’m attempting a new series to coincide with our new year and the 2020 US presidential campaign.  Given the disparaging remarks by President Trump towards the EU, I thought it would be useful to take a look back at the history of US-EU relations.  The goal of the series is to show that despite what President Trump has said, the US has a long history of supporting European integration and a strong relationship with the EU.

Since my time and resources are limited, I’m not going for a comprehensive analysis; instead, I want to give readers a snapshot of the history.  For the most part, I am relying on the Foreign Relations of the United States series from the US Department of State and what I can find from presidential libraries.  Each time I share a document, I’ll provide a brief context.


Document: Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennanto the Secretary of State
Date: January 20, 1948

“1. The project of a union among the western European nations, under combined French-British auspices, is one which we should welcome just as warmly as Mr. Bevin welcomed your Harvard speech [announcing the Marshall Plan].” (emphasis added) …

Kennan goes on to write, “… if they develop it and make it work, there will be no real question as to our long-term relationship to it.”  In other words, Kennan believed it would be a given that the US would be a long-time ally of European unity.


Document: The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador (Inverchapel)
Date: January 20, 1948

“…The initiative which [PM Ernest Bevin] is taking in this matter will be warmly applauded in the United States. I want him to know that his proposal has deeply interested and moved me and that I wish to see the United States do everything which it properly can in assisting the European nations in bringing a project along this line to fruition.” (emphasis added)


US Context: Kennan was known for his essay, The Sources of Soviet Conduct, and his Long Telegram, both of which were influential in the US policy of containment.  His memo is in keeping with the ideas laid out in Marshall’s speech, especially that any efforts must first come from Europeans themselves.  The US’ support for European recovery and unity was based mostly on containing the spread of communism.

European Context: Pro-European unity movements had begun to take shape following the Second World War.  Additionally, the Benelux Customs Union, one of the first steps towards economic union in Europe after the War, was established on January 1, 1948.

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