The Failed European Union: Franco-German Relations during the Great Depression of 1929-32

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French scholars have led a revival of interest in inter-war efforts at European integration and the prominent role played by the French Foreign Minister, Aristide Briand. Franco-German rapprochement was integral to this effort, but with the death in October 1929 of his like-minded German counterpart, Gustav Stresemann, it is generally held that Berlin adopted a more confrontational foreign policy even before Hitler took power. However, this article demonstrates that in spite of a series of upsets, an intense and sustained effort continued during the years of the Great Depression (1929–32) to forge Franco-German détente. This culminated in September 1931 in a Franco-German treaty that established the mechanisms for far-reaching integration of the two countries’ economies, with a customs union and European union as the ultimate goals. It then examines in detail how and why this remarkable effort collapsed during 1932, paying particular attention to an unforeseen crisis in trading relations and the impact of a media scandal surrounding the publication of Stresemann's memoirs. Despite this failure, efforts to integrate Europe around a Franco-German axis between 1929 and 1932 can nonetheless be understood as part of a deeper process that survived Hitler and saw the emergence of the current European Union.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-724
Number of pages20
JournalThe International History Review
Issue number4
Early online date27 Jun 2012
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2012


  • France, Germany, European Integration


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