The European Productivity Agency and Transatlantic Relations, 1953-1961

The European Productivity Agency and Transatlantic Relations, 1953-1961

The European Productivity Agency and Transatlantic Relations, 1953-1961

The European Productivity Agency and Transatlantic Relations, 1953-1961


The EPA was created in 1953 as a semi-autonomous organisation within the framework of the Organisation for European Economic Co-Operation and wound up eight years later, in 1961, when the US and Canada joined the OEEC countries and founded the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. The EPA was the product of American ideas, actions and money. It embodied the merger of two main US foreign policy goals after World War II, increasing productivity and furthering integration among the countries of Western Europe. The agency was conceived as a major instrument for the 'politics of productivity' which would enable Western European societies to overcome their social and political problems resulting from scarcity, particularly in countries such as France. During its short-lived existence the EPA acted as an operational arm of the OEEC, accounting on average for over 40 percent of the overall OEEC expenditures. It implemented a vast array of activities aimed at improving productivity in industry, commerce, agriculture and distribution. Many of its projects met with contrasted reactions and thus highlighted conflicts between trade unions and employers, differences amongst the OEEC countries as well as transatlantic squabbles. The EPA was designed as a means to 'Americanise' Western Europe through the transfer of American techniques, know-how and ideas to the Old Continent. It increasingly became a framework within which the member countries sought 'European' solutions to their problems. This study sheds new light on the nature of European co-operation and transatlantic relations in the I950s as well as on the changes these relations underwent. Bent Boel, is Assistant Professor, Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies, University of Aalborg.


The goal of the productivity program in Europe is nothing less than the reshaping
of the European economies from a static pattern characterised by restrictionism
into a pattern of dynamic and expanding free and competitive enterprise. This
alone will make possible continually rising living standards and ever-increasing
consumption of more and better things by more people. Behind this objective, of
course, and the ultimate justification, is the compelling need to keep the countries
of Europe willing and effective partners in the free world.

It is sometimes said that no man is truly dead as long as his work lives on. The
epa will now disappear from the list of international organisations, but its name
will live on in thousands of mouths all over Europe. “We started our collaboration
through meeting at the epa conference.” “It was an epa consultant who showed
us how to reorganise.” “We got our stud bull through the epa.” “We work to
epa standards here.” So very little money has been spent and so few people
employed that it is a wonder so much has been done. Now the torch of Productivi-
ty passes to the oecd.

A. Aims

The European Productivity Agency (EPA) was a product of the Marshall Plan’s technical assistance program initiated in 1948. It was an American idea, created in March 1953 as a semi-autonomous organization within the framework of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). Its purpose was to promote productivity in the member countries, and it was primarily financed by the United States. the epa was a shortlived experiment, since it was wound up after only eight years, when the

Washington National Records Center (WNRC), Record Group (RG) 469, United States Operating Missions (USOM), Mission to Austria, Productivity and Technical Assistance Division (PTAD), Subject Files (SF) 1952-58, box 4, folder (f.) “Briefing Materials,” memo, Hall to Russell, 23.9. 1954, “The foa Productivity Program.”

epa Information Bulletin, Paris, September 1961, “Eight Years of Promoting Productivity.”

the epa was an integral part of the oeec, and all 17 oeec countries were cofounders of the epa. the agency thus comprised Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. the United States and Canada, which had been associated members of the oeec since 1950, became associated members of the epa from its initiation. Later on Yugoslavia (from 1957) and Spain (from 1958), also became associated with the agency (cf. oeec, 9th Report. a Decade of Co-operation. Achievements and Perspectives).

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