The Marshall Plan World War II left Europe in a state of complete crisis. More than 30 million lives were lost during the war, cities lay in ruins, and as a result of violation of agricultural lands and people, food supply remained dangerously short. After barely surviving the Nazi threat, Europe was now faced with the threat of Soviet communism and expansion. This new threat divided the continent into pro-Western and pro-Soviet spheres, and some started to look towards communism to save them from total destruction and to progress towards rebuilding and restructuring of the post-war economy. European states were trying desperately to mend the damages of the war without having to resort to communist or socialist methods. However, the results lay short of expectations for capital was very limited and shortages of basic resources such as coal and steel restrained production. In addition, in many European countries such as France and Italy, the deterioration of the economy led to serious political problems, such as the undermining of the governmental authority. The only logical choice for Western European states, given that they did not desire to give in socialism or communism, was to get together and cooperate towards recovery. However, the individual aims, plans, and ambitions of major Western European states were keeping them from sacrificing or compromising towards such a cooperation. This is where the United States became an active player. Encouragement and provocation of European integration had been a constant characteristic of American foreign policy in the post-World War II era. The contribution of the United States to the process of European integration has manifested itself in many different contexts, such as economic aid and being a model for Europe in terms of institutions and structure.
The first official sign of post-war commitment of the United States to Europe was the Truman Doctrine outlined by US President Harry Truman in March 1947. The Truman Doctrine granted military aid to Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean and it acted as the confirmation of the launching of better and stronger political relations between Western Europe and the United States . The same year saw the shift in aid to the economic area. Observing the constantly deteriorating state of European economy, the United States decided to provide Europe with financial assistance. This decision was aimed at helping Europe recover, but had to do with the States' national interests as well. Since Western European economies were lacking the financial means for developed trade with the United States, the US was suffering from a huge export surplus caused by its booming economy. The recovery of European economies and improved trade relations with Europe would mean a significant export outlet for the United States . With these considerations in mind, in June 1947, US Secretary of State George Marshall announced the Marshall Plan, generally known as the European Recovery Programme. This was the biggest push from the United States for European integration and provided the greatest help toward integration as well. The Marshall Plan stated that the United States would provide funds for financial assistance if European states devised a cooperative and long-term rebuilding program to recover from the effects of World War II.
The Marshall Plan was a success in that it called for those who would benefit from the program to be actively involved in the planning and execution phases. Therefore, knowing that they had significant influence on the outcomes of the program, the beneficiary European states were encouraged to cooperate to the greatest extent with the United States.
Between 1948 and 1952, the US supplied $13.2 billion worth of grants and credits to European nations. These funds played a key role in bringing a significant level of economic progress and stability to the benefiting 16 states of Europe. By 1950, inflation was under control in many states and international as well as domestic trade had recovered to impressive levels and by 1952, 'Western Europe's aggregate gross national product had jumped by more than 32 percent, from $120,000 million to $159,000 million.'. At the same time, industrial output had increased by 40 percent. In short, the pre-war system of intra-trade and cooperation was restored, and Western European economies were once again recovering and booming.
During the implementation of the European Recovery Programme, the United States also insisted that an institution be founded to administer the programme, and this led to the establishment of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation in April 1948. The Organization for European Economic Cooperation was an intergovernmental body with representatives from the 16 member states that were benefiting from the recovery programme. Although the OEEC had economic limitations and tended to concentrate on short-term issues, it still made a significant contribution to the process and the future of European integration in that by 1959, 'almost all international trade had been liberalized to some degree; European currencies had generally become convertible…and in 1958 the EPU was replaced by the broader European Monetary Agreement.' The OEEC made European states realize that their economies were interdependent and that either they would all prosper or they would all go down.
European states were encouraged towards economic cooperation within the framework of the OEEC. Participating countries 'organized national production councils and worked through OEEC to launch an intra-European technical assistance program under which national groups of cooperating labor, management, and professional leaders began exchanging technical information and production data. In France, technical assistance enhanced the Monnet Plan for industrial redevelopment. In Germany, it accelerated earlier trends toward the rationalization of the industry. In other countries, it led to improved engineering and marketing methods, to important technological adaptations, and to the spread of industrial planning.'
The Marshall Plan encouraged eminent Frenchmen Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet to work together with other European leaders to make the vision of a united Europe a reality. Their efforts resulted in significant achievements towards European economic and political unity and integration, such as the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community and the Council of Europe as well as the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a milestone in the history of European integration.
The idea of integration had its roots in the minds of European intellectuals and, as Alan S. Milward argues, it was found as a European solution to European problems. However, it cannot be denied that without assistance from the United States, the process would have been much more painful and would have taken a much longer time. The main reason is that Western European states at this time were too involved in their own individual problems and placed pursuing their individual national ambitions far above the idea of cooperating and sacrificing for a higher European unity. The only country that seemed to be relatively more enthusiastic about the idea of integration at this time was Germany, but this enthusiasm was directed more towards the creation of 'a unified European economic area in which the German economy could fully realize its potential' than to the effort of sacrificing national interests in order to serve a higher European ideal.
The main contributions to the process of integration on the side of the Western European states was in the context of political integration rather than economic integration. The past experience of Europe from national animosities, wars over sovereignty, and centuries of conflicts led European intellectuals to see the solution in the creation of a European federation or 'supranational political structures, structures that were to limit national sovereignty and to supersede the nation-state.' The declining trust in the power of the League of Nations in providing welfare and security was a main actor in pushing European states to believe that only a European federation would be effective in establishing peace, security, and stability in the region. However, in the economical context, although European nations were well aware of the crisis that they were in, they lacked the capital means and the sufficient resources essential to recovering from this crisis. The greatest contribution of the United States was granting them with these means and pushing them towards building a long-term plan to recover and rebuild, thus, to cooperate.
The vision of Truman and Marshall to create a new Europe has still not been fulfilled. However, considering the conditions before US aid to Europe, one can say that Europe was reborn after the Marshall aid. Economic expectations were surpassed by far, and as far as the political context goes, Europe was saved from a destiny determined by the communist forces of the Soviet Union. In a period of five years, Europe gained its independence again and was approaching a greater economic and political unity day by day.