THE FIRST STEPS, 1945-47
AS THE war came to an end, all Europe gave vent to a great demand for goods. All sorts of goods were wanted: food, clothing and fuel to sustain life and health; material to rebuild roads, bridges, railroads, homes and factories; machinery and equipment for mines and plants; fuel and raw materials for industry. Most countries could find a large part of what they needed within their own borders. Some essentials could come only from abroad. Many things were, or would soon be, obtainable somewhere in Europe, provided international trade began to work again.
For the moment few governments had to worry about protecting domestic producers from foreign competition. There was a market for almost everything that could be produced; every country wanted imports to satisfy its people's demand. Tariffs were largely suspended, but governments regulated imports by quotas and exchange controls in an attempt to make the best use they could of their limited ability to buy things abroad. Almost every Western European country faced a twofold foreign exchange problem: first, it was unable to earn enough by exporting to pay for the imports it judged necessary, and second, it often could not use the money earned by exporting to one country for purchases in another country.
Neither of these difficulties could be overcome by cooperation among the governments of Western Europe alone. But cooperation could reduce both difficulties, the second more than the first. A large segment of the story of postwar economic cooperation in Western Europe concerns successive efforts to enlarge the means of financing trade among the