The "Social Market Economy" and Its Impact on German European Policy in the Adenauer Era, 1949-1963

By Thiemeyer, Guido | German Politics and Society, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview
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The "Social Market Economy" and Its Impact on German European Policy in the Adenauer Era, 1949-1963


Thiemeyer, Guido, German Politics and Society


This article focuses on the economic aspects of German European policy in the 1950s and raises the question whether the economic system of the Federal Republic of Germany, "Soziale Marktwirtschaft" had any impact on the European policy of the West German state. It argues that Social Market Economy as defined by Ludwig Erhard influenced German European policy in certain aspects, but there was a latent contradiction between the political approach of Konrad Adenaner and this economic concept. Moreover, this article shows that West German European policy was not always as supportive for European unity as it is often considered.

Keywords: European integration; Ludwig Erhard; Konrad Adenaner; Common Agricultural Policy; Soziale Marktwirtschaft

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"In the beginning was Adenauer" is a famous coined dictum by Arnulf Baring, a German historian. (1) Baring's principal argument was that due to the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), the chancellor played such a dominant role in the decision-making process that he influenced all important political decisions in the early 1950s. This also applies to the foreign policy of the early Federal Republic-especially European policy.

Historical research has evolved since the early 1980s, however, when Baring published his book. Konrad Adenauer's dominant role in the decision-making process is still an unchallenged finding, but today we know that there were several competing conceptions of European integration policy circulating among the political and economic elite at that time. In fact, at least three general approaches can be identified. First, was the pragmatic political conception of Adenauer himself, (2) aimed primarily at the integration of West Germany as an integral part into the western world, which he associated with values such as human rights, democracy, individual freedom, and the Christian religion. According to Adenauer, the actual form of this integration was only a question of secondary importance. What was crucial in his eyes was that integration should be accompanied by reconciliation with France and supported by the United States whose military power seemed to be the only guarantee against Soviet aggression.

A second conception could be called the federal or constitutional theory. It was supported by the leading diplomats of the Foreign Office (Auswartiges Amt, and advocated a federation, the "United States of Europe." All member states should delegate part of their national sovereignty to the new federation that was to become a new actor in world politics on the same level as the U.S.A and the Soviet Union. The most important representatives of this conception were Walter Hallstein, the Secretary of State in the Foreign Office and Karl Friedrich Ophuls, the head of the European Department. (3) As both were professors of law, they considered the construction of a new political entity on the European level from the perspective of constitutional jurisprudence. Adenauer largely shared these attitudes, but was much more pragmatic than the academics.

The third conception could be called the economic theory, and was supported mainly by Ludwig Erhard and most officials in the Ministry of Economics. (4) In their eyes, European integration was first and foremost an economic problem that could be solved best through a general liberalization of trade and services among the West European states. These stances were supported by the most important industrial pressure group in the Federal Republic, the Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI), and its president Fritz Berg, who himself was a close friend of Adenauer. The chancellor was not opposed to this liberal economic approach, but again was much more pragmatic than the doctrinaire liberals.

Apart from these theory-based conceptions of European integration policy there were numerous other initiatives for European unity furthered by other governmental departments and pressure groups that certainly influenced West German European integration policy at this time.

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