Eurafrica: History of European Integration, “Compromise” of Decolonization

This is part of our special feature, Beyond Eurafrica: Encounters in a Globalized World.


“The Community is aware that the rapid pace of change in Africa is undermining some of the assumptions upon which its original program for association between the EEC and the African countries was based. It is also aware of the enormity of the stakes involved, and it is striving to reconstruct its program in line with emerging requirements. […] If it succeeds, its historic role will far transcend its accomplishments in Europe alone.”

– Emile Benoit, 1961[1]

“The treaty was drafted at a time when rapid decolonization was discounted by the European metropoles, with the result that no reference was made to the possible attainment of sovereign independence by the associate except in the case of Somaliland.”

– Carol Ann Cosgrove, 1969[2]

The European Union was founded in the same year as Ghana proclaimed its independence. It even happened in the same month, March 1957. Official and para-official EU history tends to present these inaugural events as though they were related. As the story goes, both were manifestations of the new world order that emerged in the decades after World War Two. West-European states laid their claims for imperial dominance to rest, when they were not simply defeated by anticolonial movements, political and military. As a consequence, European states after the war chose intra-continental cooperation, burying national rivalries that had fueled two world wars, and rebuilding their war-crippled societies and national economies by coordinating their natural resources and increasing internal mobility of commodities, money, and labor.

The narrative is compelling, but it is far from true. After the war, European states actually scrambled to preserve their empires and use them to claim geopolitical leverage vis-à-vis the dominant superpowers to the east and the west, the Soviet Union and the US. In fact, rather than a postcolonial project, the EU (or the European Economic Community, EEC, as it was called at its foundation) was from the outset designed, among other things, to enable a rational, co-European colonial management of the African continent.

The relationship between the history of European integration and the history of colonialism is best understood through a compelling geopolitical entity once known as Eurafrica. As we have shown in a recent book by that title, most efforts to unify Europe from 1920 to 1960 systematically coincided with efforts to develop and stabilize the colonial system in Africa.[3] This preoccupation was already conspicuous in the interwar plans for European integration, where the Pan-European movement as well as a number of other projects and organizations perceived European integration (or federation) as essentially unworkable unless it were to possess the scale that only the addition of the African colonies could provide. As the leader of the Pan-European movement, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi argued in 1929, “Africa could provide Europe with raw materials for its industry, nutrition for its population, land for its overpopulation, labor for its unemployed, and markets for its products.”[4]

Advocates of the Eurafrican idea based their model on a geopolitical calculation that appeared to generate two symbiotic benefits: the new geopolitical sphere that would comprise a united Europe would be sustainable and prosperous thanks to its incorporation of Africa; and correspondingly, the bonds between once-antagonistic European states would be strengthened by the shared goal of African development. The unification of Europe and a unified European effort in Africa were processes that mutually presupposed one another. In short, Europe’s unification would start in Africa.

In the post-war period, these collective ambitions contributed decisively to the momentum for Western European cooperation and integration, and, subsequently, the establishment of the EEC. The architects of European integration clearly understood that the Western European landmass lacked the natural resources necessary to rebuild Europe into a viable geopolitical and geo-economic power bloc able both to compete with the two emerging superpowers, and to prevent Bandung’s anti-colonial momentum from intervening in African affairs. Consequently, questions of colonialism and Africa figured prominently on the agendas of practically all the post-war organizations and institutions dedicated to European integration. As French historian Yves Montarsolo puts it, “each time a new ‘European’ institution saw the day, Africa was always at the heart of all concerns.”[5] These new institutions included: the European Movement (officially founded in 1948); the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC/OECD, 1948); the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, 1949, seen at the time as an organization of European integration[6]); the Council of Europe (1949); the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC, 1951); the abortive European Defence Community and appurtenant European Political Community (the EDC Treaty was signed in 1952); and, finally, the European Economic Community (EEC, 1957), which successfully incorporated the colonial possessions of the six founding member states, thereby elevating colonialism to an international and supranational level.

What was the nature of this co-European colonialism? When the European Movement gathered for the Congress of Europe in The Hague in May 1948 to discuss Europe’s future, the topic of Africa sat high on the agenda. As one of its most important documents, the Congress issued a Political Report, which contended: “The European Union must, of course, include in its orbit the extensions, dependencies and associated territories of the European Powers in Africa and elsewhere, and must preserve the existing constitutional ties which unite them.”[7] U.S. diplomats sometimes referred to this scenario as the “Eurafrican Monroe Doctrine.”[8]

The Congress of Europe heralded the establishment of the Council of Europe one year later in 1949. This organization immediately turned colonial cooperation in Africa into one of its defining priorities.[9] The chairman of the Council of Europe’s economic committee, former French prime minister Paul Reynaud, summarized the matter in 1952: “We must also, if free Europe is to be made viable, jointly exploit the riches of the African continent, and try to find there those raw materials which we are getting from the dollar area, and for which we are unable to pay.”[10] This resonated with practically all of the representatives in the Council’s Consultative Assembly. For instance, Denmark’s Hermond Lannung emphasized “the overriding importance of greater co-operation and of a major joint European effort in Africa if we do not wish to see Africa lost to European influence, culture, trade, etc., and, in the long run, for that influence to be replaced by that of another continent.” Europe had just lost the “battle of Asia,” Lannung asserted, and now its nations needed to unite in order not to also lose “the battle of Africa.”[11]

When the Treaty of Rome negotiations about the founding of the EEC started in earnest in 1956 there was, with a few exceptions, broad political, economic, and intellectual consensus in Western Europe that the colonial possessions of the member states would also be brought into the fold.[12] The only negotiating party that had serious doubts was the Netherlands. This overarching consensus came to the fore in the work that was being done by the intergovernmental Ad-Hoc Overseas Territories Group, which was tasked to prepare the Rome Treaty’s association regime. On December 18, 1956 the group circulated a draft of a preamble to its final report, a balance sheet of the advantages of the association with the overseas territories:

“Economically speaking, the European member states of the common market have an essential need for the cooperation and support that the overseas territories – particularly the African ones – are able to offer in order to establish long-term balance of the European economy. The sources of raw material, variegated and abundant, which the overseas territories dispose of are likely to ensure for the entirety of the European economy of the common market the indispensable foundation for an expanding economy and present the additional advantage of being situated in countries whose orientation may be influenced by the European countries themselves.”[13]

Furthermore, the preamble compared this project to the Marshall Plan, insisting that the association of the overseas territories should be undertaken in a similar spirit. The preamble concluded: “The proposed enterprise entails consequences of major importance for the future of Europe. […] In aiding Africa and supporting itself on her, the community of the Six is able to furnish Europe with its equilibrium and a new youth. It is with this perspective that all other elements of information assembled in the present report should be understood.”[14]

The socialist-led French government under Guy Mollet also linked its Algerian policy to the ongoing negotiations on Eurafrican integration. In January 1957, Mollet issued a statement on the Algerian situation directly addressed to the UN General Assembly:

“France is negotiating at this time with her European partners for the organization of a vast common market, to which the Overseas Territories will be associated. All of Europe will be called upon to help in the development of Africa, and tomorrow Eurafrica may become one of the principal factors in world politics. Isolated nations can no longer keep pace with the world. What would Algeria amount to by itself? On the other hand, what future might it not have, as one of the foundations of the Eurafrican community now taking shape?”[15

Agreement on the incorporation of the overseas territories into the European Common Market was reached on February 20, 1957, at the Heads of Government meeting in Paris, under the chairmanship of Guy Mollet. The settlement, which was to be codified in the Rome Treaty’s Part IV (Articles 131–136), included a trade agreement according to which, in principle, all associated colonies would gain access to the common market on equal terms, in the same way that all six member states would gain access to trading and investment opportunities in the associated areas on equal terms. The association agreement also created an investment fund that would finance social and economic development in the associated territories. Contributions to the fund, to total 580 million U.S. dollars for the first five years, would be divided among the member states, though West Germany and France would shoulder the brunt of the financial burden with 200 million each. Ninety percent of the fund would go to projects in the French territories. Finally, it was stipulated that these measures would be implemented for an initial five-year term, at which point they would come up for renewal, and it was also understood that the full realization and implementation of this common market would take from twelve to seventeen years.

As a direct result of this colonial association setup, the new European community now located more than three-fourths of its land area outside of continental Europe, and it stretched from the mouth of the Rhine in the North Sea to the Congo River in Africa. In European press and politics, the creation of Eurafrica stood out as one of the three or four most significant features of the new common market. In late February 1957, for example, Belgium’s Foreign minister Paul-Henri Spaak showcased the incorporation of Europe and Africa as the boldest part of the Rome Treaty. By adding the African territories, the common market would include more than 200 million inhabitants and Europe would have access to the raw materials necessary for its sustainability. “Would it not be a success,” Spaak asked his audience, “if we could realize the dream of Eurafrica, which, after the reunion in Paris, seems able to become reality?”[16]

Most of the founders of the EEC—including Paul-Henri Spaak, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Guy Mollet—endorsed Europe’s mission civilisatrice in Africa, and saw a renewed imperial project as inseparable from the project of integrating Europe with the goal of greater economic growth. This spirit of colonial optimism was similar to the energy with which Mollet spoke about the EEC as he met with American journalists and politicians on his visit to Washington in February 1957: “Eight days ago […] we settled the last difficulties concerning the Euratom Treaty and that of the Common European Market. We also made a capital decision: to associate Europe with the territories of Black Africa which today are linked with Belgium and France […]. In associating the Overseas Territories of our countries with this market, the road is open to the union of Europe and Africa, to what we are beginning to call Eurafrica.”[17] Addressing the U.S. Senate on the same day, Mollet asserted, “This is not a hazy dream. I am firmly convinced that EURAFRICA will be the reality of tomorrow.”[18]

In April 1958, with the offices of the European Commission set up in Brussels, the Directorate General for the overseas territories—or the DG VIII—began its work under Commissioner Robert Lemaignen of France. Lemaignen divided the EEC’s Eurafrican activities into four areas (research and program activities; cultural and social questions; trade matters; and development investments).[19] Initiatives in each area followed from his policy statement that “the European community was a common good for all its participants including all the African peoples.”[20] As Lemaignen some years later summarized the first five years at the DG VIII, he affirmed that “a broad foundation had been laid for the Eurafrican economic symbiosis,” and that this was “an essential element of the world of tomorrow.”[21] This “foundation” was the Yaoundé Convention—signed in 1963 between the EEC and eighteen newly independent, former French and Belgian colonies—whose provisions extended the Rome Treaty’s Eurafrican association regime into the postcolonial era.

As we argue in our book, a sustained focus on the Eurafrican project enables a rewriting of the history of European Integration. Moreover, it also invites a new perspective of what African decolonization was about. Much research is still needed on this topic to, as political scientist Véronique Dimier asserts, provide “the missing link in the existing literature on the continuity between colonial and development or post-colonial policies in Africa and Europe.”[22] It seems particularly important to examine the African agency in EEC-Africa relations and African legitimization of the EEC’s association.

Let us here begin with Immanuel Wallerstein’s early discussion of the Treaty of Rome’s impact on the economic structures of newly independent African states. In an attempt to explain why the “passion and optimism” of the moment of African independence—a story he had told in his book Africa: The Politics of Independence (1961)—soon petered out, Wallerstein in his second book on Africa from 1967 (Africa: The Politics of Unity) expressed his concern that the association of the African colonies to the EEC had already created serious obstacles to all attempts at creating African integration and unity. Most of the African states in the former French Union had simply found it more practical to consolidate links with the EEC than to engage with the ideas presented by the movements for African unity, subsequently organized in the Organization of African Unity (OAU).[23] To be sure, some of the newly independent countries such as Ghana and Guinea favored autonomous Pan-African integration, and this line had important backing from major organizations, political parties and intellectuals. Yet, it remained a minority line, and a majority of African leaders opted—voluntarily or coerced—for the Eurafrican arrangement. We find this state of affairs mirrored in Arnold Rivkin’s (at the time Development Advisor to the World Bank) enthusiastic account in 1966 of the EEC’s “fruitful” Eurafrican association scheme. “Guinea’s attitude,” Rivkin writes disparagingly, has “been one of hostility to the association of other African states with the EEC. President Touré has viewed, not without reason, the existence of so attractive an alternative as the European Common Market as a serious obstacle to the achievement of his original Pan-African designs.”[24] In Rivkin’s view, then, Guinea’s and Ghana’s stance on EEC association “as a new neo-colonial application of the old ‘divide and rule’ principle” cannot amount to anything but a mistaken obstinacy, totally at odds with these countries’ own best interests.

Wallerstein quoted the 1960 assessment by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), which declared that the formalization of Eurafrica had been a winning strategy from a European point of view, in the sense that it had achieved what the architects behind the EEC’s association regime had intended. From the African perspective, the cost for this strategy was that political independence remained incomplete, while economic dependency on Europe was unchanged. The ECA stated “that the Rome Treaty may tempt [the Associated African States] to prefer the short-run advantage of tariff concessions [in EEC markets] to the long-run gains of industrial development” and, therefore, that “association with EEC can easily tend to perpetuate economic dependency.”[25]

That independent Africa was off to a bad start and had entered a path of underdevelopment was the message of René Dumont’s influential book from 1961 (False Start in Africa). Dumont, too, explained this as the result of Europe’s continued dominance, which, according to him, mainly expressed itself through an African leadership too reliant on, or corrupted by, the Europeans. A major manifestation of this was precisely the EEC’s association regime, which effectively checked what Dumont saw as a necessary development towards greater inter-African cooperation: “Tropical Africa should unite quickly the better to resist the grip of this powerful European economic bloc: otherwise neo-colonialism will soon be able to call itself Eurafrica.”[26] A year later, this assessment was reiterated by political analyst Schofield Coryell as he evaluated how the African territories had fared during the first five years of EEC association: “They thus remain essentially what they were: agricultural appendages to Europe.”[27]

Given that African states gained independence on unfavorable terms, or were set off to a “false start,” as Dumont expressed it, and that this was partly due to Eurafrican association, how come these states accepted it? Here it must be recalled that at the time of independence the former French and Belgian colonies in Africa were already associated to the EEC, and on this decisive transformation they had never been consulted. Second, the Yaoundé convention of 1963, through which Eurafrican association was reconfirmed and prolonged, was also impaired by longstanding colonial legacies, a circumstance that helps explain why the eighteen independent African states that signed the convention were not able to muster sufficient leverage in the negotiations. Rather, as Emily Jones puts it, “the EEC presented its offer to the Francophone Associates as a fait accompli and they accepted it […] the outcome reflected the EEC’s interests and the eighteen Francophone African countries exerted minimal influence.”[28]

Wallerstein described decolonization in Africa as a political compromise between the metropolitan governments and the nationalist leadership of Africa. Of course, the EEC’s decision to associate France and Belgium’s colonial possessions in Africa was not a negotiated compromise in the strict sense, as it was negotiated before independence, yet its realization hinged on unofficial consent of African elites, who discovered that Eurafrican association was an arrangement that favored them and their political goals.[29]

Extrapolating Wallerstein’s expression, it may be concluded that Eurafrica was the very name of the “compromise” of decolonization. It was the mediating institutional formation through which Africa and Europe exited the colonial era and entered a new world order where, just as the founders of the EEC had intended, their unequal relationship essentially remained unchanged. Today, even as the Eurafrican project is largely forgotten, the content of current EU policymaking towards its African “partner” demonstrates that its influence persists under the surface. The only way to comprehend the deep structures of current EU–African relations is to bring this history to life again, or at least bring it into the history books.


Peo Hansen is professor of political science at the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköping University. A former senior fellow at the Remarque Institute at New York University and Max Planck-Sciences Po in Paris, his research areas include European integration, EU migration policy, postwar European geopolitics, and the history of colonialism and decolonization. He’s the author of The Politics of European Citizenship (2012), co-authored with Sandy B. Hager; and, most recently, Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism (2014), co-authored with Stefan Jonsson. He is currently writing a book on Europe’s migration crises.

Stefan Jonsson is professor of ethnic studies at the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköping University. He has written widely on European modernism and modernity, focusing especially on representations and fantasies of crowds and collectivities, as well as on European racism and colonialism. His writings include Subject Without Nation (2000); A Brief History of the Masses (2008); Crowds and Democracy (2013); and most recently Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism, co-authored with Peo Hansen and Austere Histories in European Societies, co-edited with Julia Willén.

Photo: GHANA – CIRCA 1957: A stamp printed in Ghana shows image celebrating Ghanaian Independence | Shutterstock


[1] Emile Benoit, Europe at Sixes and Sevens: The Common Market, the Free Trade Association and the United States (1961).

[2] Carol Ann Cosgrove, “The Common Market and its Colonial Heritage,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1969.

[3] Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism (2014). Apart from this work there is no account that traces the bond between European integration and colonial Africa in its full historical extent. The works that come closest are the contributions in Marie-Thérèse Bitsch and Gérard Bossuat, L’Europe unie et l’Afrique: De l’idée d’Eurafrique à la convention de Lomé I (2005), as well as Thomas Moser, Europäische Integration, Dekolonisation, Eurafrika: Eine historische Analyse über die Entstehungsbedingungen der Eurafrikanischen Gemeinschaft von der Weltwirtschaftskrise bis zum Jaunde-Vertrag, 1929–1963 (2000) and Véronique Dimier’s recent The Invention of a European Development Aid Bureaucracy: Recycling Empire (2014). A German dissertation covers the economic aspects of the association to the EEC of African states in the 1960s (Urban Vahsen, Eurafrikanische Entwicklungskooperation: Die Assoziierungspolitik der EWG gegenüber dem subsaharischen Afrika in den 1960er Jahren , 2010); the French context of the 1950s is accounted for in Yves Montarsolo’s L’Eurafrique – contrepoint de l’idée d’Europe: Le cas français de la fin de la deuxième guerre mondiale aux négociacions des Traités de Rome (2010). Several scattered scholarly accounts cover specific parts, aspects and time frames of this history; see e.g. Gérard Bossuat, L’Europe des Français, 1943–1959: La IVe République aux sources de l’Europe communautaire (1996); Megan Brown, “Drawing Algeria into Europe: shifting French policy and the Treaty of Rome (1951–1964),” Modern & Contemporary France, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2017; Matthew Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (2002); Muriam Haleh Davis, Producing Eurafrica: Development, Agriculture and Race in Algeria, 1958-1965, Ph.D. Diss., New York University, 2015; Anne Deighton, “Entente Neo-Coloniale? Ernest Bevin and the Proposals for an Anglo–French Third World Power,” Diplomacy and Statecraft, Vol. 17, 2006; Pierre Guillen, “Europe as a Cure of French Impotence? The Guy Mollet Government and the Negotiation of the Treaties of Rome,” in Ennio Di Nolfo (ed.), Power in Europe? II: Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy and the Origins of the EEC 1952–1957 (1992); John Kent, The Internationalization of Colonialism: Britain, France, and Black Africa, 1939–1956 (1992); Guia Migani, La France et l’Afrique sub-saharienne, 1957–1963: Histoire d’une décolonisation entre idéaux eurafricains et politique de puissance (2008); Patrick Pasture, Imagining European Unity since 1000 AD (2015). The first survey of writings about Eurafrica was published in Cameroon; see Max Liniger-Goumaz, Eurafrique: Utopie our réalité? (1970) and Eurafrique (1972).

[4] Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, “Afrika,” Paneuropa, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1929, 3.

[5] Montarsolo, L’Eurafrique – contrepoint de l’idée d’Europe, 91.

[6] A. H. Robertson, European Institutions (1959).

[7] Quoted in Alan Hick, “The ‘European Movement,” in Walter Lipgens, ed., Documents on the History of European Integration (1991), 4, 335–6.

[8] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Volume XVIII (Africa), (United States Government Printing Office, 1989), 164.

[9] See Jean-Marie Palayret, “Les mouvements proeuropéens et la question de l’Eurafrique, du Congrès de La Haye à la Convention de Yaoundé (1948–1963),” in Bitsch and Bossuat, ed., L’Europe unie et l’Afrique; Karis Muller, “‘Concentric Circles’ at the Periphery of the European Union,” Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 46, No. 3, 2000; A. H. Robertson, “The Council of Europe and the United Nations,” in Berhanykun Andemicael, ed., Regionalism and the United Nations (1979), 506–7.

[10] Council of Europe, The Strasbourg Plan (1952), 135.

[11] Ibid., 140, 154.

[12] The received idea on this matter is that West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg opposed France’s ultimatum to associate the colonies to the EEC. Even Frederick Cooper repeats this view (in Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945–1960, 2014, 265, 268). The archives tell the opposite story, however. As Guia Migani so far is alone in EU-scholarship to point out, resistance to France’s position only “concerned the modalities of association; nobody explicitly contested the principle that the African territories would participate in the Common Market”. See Migani, La France et l’Afrique sub-saharienne, 1957–1963, 54.

[13] HAEU (Historical Archives of the European Union), CM 3/NEGO 252, “Groupe Ad hoc territoires d’outre-mer, Projet de préambule,” 18 December 1956.

[14] Ibid.

[15] HAEU, EN 2736, “French Government’s Statement on Algeria”, 9 January 1957.

[16] Spaak gave his lecture on February 25, 1957, to military and business circles in Brussels and it was subsequently published in Mars et Mercure, no. 3, 1957.

[17] HAEU, EN 2735, “Speech […] at the luncheon of the National Press Club,” 27 February 1957. Also in Guy Mollet, “The Euratom Treaty: The Common European Market,” Vital Speeches of the Day 23, No. 11,1957, 349–352.

[18] HAEU, EN 2735, “Address by Guy Mollet before the Senate of the United States,” 27 February 1957.

[19] Robert Lemaignen, L’Europe au berceau: Souvenirs d’un technocrate (1964), 119.

[20] Ibid., 123.

[21] Ibid., 160.

[22] Dimier, The Invention of a European Development Aid Bureaucracy, 3.

[23] Immanuel Wallerstein, Africa: The Politics of Independence and Unity (new edn, 2005), Vol. 2.

[24] Arnold Rivkin, “Africa and the European Common Market: A perspective,” Monograph

Series in World Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1966, 40.

[25] “The Impact of Western European Integration on African Trade and Development,” UN Economic and Social Council Document E/CN.14/72, 7 December 1960. Quoted in Wallerstein, Africa, 2, 137–38.

[26] René Dumont, False Start in Africa, trans. Phyllis Nauts Ott (1966), 273. Translation modified: the crucial reference to Eurafrica is omitted in the English translation; see the original L’Afrique noire est mal partie (1962/2012), 254.

[27] Schofield Coryell, “French Africa and the Common Market,” Africa Today Vol. 9, November, 1962, 13.

[28] Emily Jones, “When Do ‘Weak’ States Win? A History of African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries Manoeuvring in Trade Negotiations with Europe,” GEG Working Paper 2014/95, December, 2014, The Global Economic Governance Programme, University of Oxford, 8; see also Dimier, The Invention of a European Development Aid Bureaucracy.

[29] Wallerstein, Africa, Vol. 2, 257.



Published on March 1, 2018.




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