Jean Monnet was born in Cognac France in 1888 to a family involved in cognac merchandizing. He became involved in the family business and never pursued a college degree. His business travels gave him a global perspective which helped define his eventual career as a facilitator of cooperation between nations.
During World War I, he was an advocate for greater cooperation between France and England. While the French government agreed with him in principle, there was limited progress until late in the war.
After the war, he argued for greater economic cooperation between France and England but was rejected. He was then asked to take a senior executive position in the ill-fated League of Nations, but eventually left to help out with the family business.
He returned to international economic interests when he became involved in the economic recovery of a number of Central and Eastern European nations. This work and subsequent work in China made him one of the most connected persons in the world.
When World War II began, Monnet again advocated for France-England cooperation. He was supported by Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill, but the French cabinet decided on signing a peace agreement with Germany. Realizing that the U.S. would need to get involved to defeat Germany, Monnet began what would become a unique diplomatic effort between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. He actually aided both leaders in writing messages to each other.
Monnet then moved to unite the economies of European nations. His connections and diplomatic experience were instrumental in forming what is now the European Union. He has been called the Father of Europe for his diplomatic skills in bringing together the countries of Europe into economic cooperation. He was the first person to be designated as an Honorary Citizen of Europe. He passed away in 1979, and his remains were transferred to the Panthéon in Paris upon the 100th anniversary of his birth. In recognition of his stature, many European heads of states attended the ceremony.
Few know the name of Jean Monnet today, and that is often the case with hidden heroes. They do their work behind the scenes and let others take credit.
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“Government and cooperation are in all things the laws of life; anarchy and competition the laws of death.” – John Ruskin (Writer, Philosopher)