Jean Monnet FAQ
1 - Is there a link between Claude Monet and Jean Monnet?
No, there is no connection between them. Claude Monet, painter of the “impressionist” school, lived from 1840 until 1926. Regarding to our Jean Monnet, he was a man of the French government, considered to be one of the Fathers of Europe. Born in 1888, he died in 1979. One changed the history of art; the other changed history.
2 – What was Jean Monnet’s social upbringing?
Jean Monnet was born to parents who were originally peasants and subsequently became Cognac merchants. Indeed, his father, Jean-Gabriel Monet, headed a co-operative of Cognac wine-producing owners in 1897 and changed the name to “J.G. Monnet & Co.” After this, the Monnet family quickly became rich. His mother, Maria Demelle, daughter of a cooper, also believed that her husband was agnostic. Other than Jean, they had two daughters (Marie-Louise, only female auditor of the Vatican II council, and Henriette) and another son (Gaston, involved in the family business).
Further, Jean Monnet highlights in his memoir that the region where he grew up was free of nationalistic ideology: “The people of Cognac weren’t nationalistic during the time period when France was. […] without a doubt, there were already conditions that naturally made me, one day, do what seemed necessary for men separated by artificial barriers to work together.” [Jean Monnet, Memoires, Fayard, 1976, p.45]
3 – What was Jean Monnet’s education?
Jean Monnet left school at 17, after getting the first part of his baccalaureate: “I had never liked school. I refused, or some difficulty prevented me from memorizing a bookish science.” [Memories, page 39]
Despite his premature departure from his studies, he developed valuable skills in working with the sale of Cognac. He observed the relationships that were born between different business partners and also learned international business from these men. He considered this instruction to be more useful and more effective than specialized education. He only had to look and listen carefully. As he said it, why limit ourselves to the school setting when we have the possibility to go to the “school of life” and “visit the world?” [Memoirs, page 40].
4 – What was Jean Monnet’s first professional job?
At 17, Jean Monnet was taught by an employee of his family’s business “J.G. Monnet & Co”, who led him to discover the business world. From 1904 to 1906, the young Monnet learned his merchant craft, as well as English, the language of commerce. This was a decisive time for Monnet, as it allowed him to develop professional relationships on an international scale. Following this experience, at 18, he was sent to Canada by his father, his first long-distance trip. Upon his departure, his father gave him these words of advice: “Don’t bring any books – nobody can think for you – look out the window, talk to people, pay attention to those next to you.” [Memoirs, page 47]
Jean Monnet therefore represented his family’s business on the international markets, and from 1906 to 1914, he spent more time abroad (America, England, Scandinavia, Russia, Egypt, …) than he did in France.
5 – Why wasn’t Jean Monnet called to military service in 1914?
The young Monnet’s health was very fragile. In 1913 at the age of 25, after having his appendix removed, he caught Typhoid Fever, a contagious sickness brought on by salmonella bacteria. But in reality, these were pulmonary issues, revealed in 1908 after an army medical visit which prevented him from enlisting. Despite the fact that there was no “roadmap” waiting for him at home, he remained active and engaged himself in projects within his capabilities. He couldn’t serve his country, but he wanted to be useful.
6 – What role did Jean Monnet play during World War I?
In 1914, Jean Monnet was 26 years old. Upon his return from Canada, he learned military mobilization in Poitiers Station. After a month of conflict at the disadvantage of allied forces, he quickly realized that this war was not like any other. According to him, “the war machine was called to destroy all the resources of a nation.” Therefore, it was necessary to use more modern warfare.
At this time, he was aware of the necessity to act quickly, but he didn’t know who to talk to. Thanks to the mediation of the family business’ lawyer, Mr. Fernand Benon, he was able to meet with the President of the Council, René Viviani, and explained to him his point of view. He was not satisfied with the organization of the fleet: “There [was] a great waste; the commercial fleets [weren’t] requisitioned.” He considered that no priority was clearly defined and that the organizations of cooperation between the Allies were insufficient. Monnet’s idea was groundbreaking: to create a naval transport committee that would control every allied ship (their features, movements, and cargo). The goal was to collectively contribute to the war effort.
Sent to London in 1914 by Viviani, Jean Monnet went to contribute to the development of this “pool” of Franco-British ships throughout the war. Although discharged, Jean Monnet succeeded in effectively serving France and furthering peace. From that point on, he maintained that this experience of national interdependence seemed unavoidable.
7 – What was Jean Monnet’s role after World War I?
In 1919, from the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations (LoN), ancestor of the United Nations, was created. Jean Monnet’s participation in the creation and workings of joint allied organizations and his experience in international commerce lent him important tools. Thus, he acquired an extensive network of relationships and a sound knowledge of post-war financial and economic data. It was for this reason that the League of Nations organization committee, supported by Clemenceau and Lord Balfour, thought of naming the then-31 year-old young man from the provinces to the post of Deputy Secretary General of the LoN. As a result, he would stay in Geneva for four years. He would help Sir Eric Drummond, Secretary General, with the execution of technical decisions.
8 – Why did Jean Monnet resign from the League of Nations?
In 1923, Marie-Louise, Jean’s sister, went to Geneva to ask him to regain control over the family business. Indeed, before the war, the Monnet business went through a crisis that touched every sector of Cognac brandy. Thus, on 18 December, Jean Monnet turned in his letter of resignation as Deputy Secretary General of the League of Nations due to “family obligations.”
In 1970, in hindsight, he wrote: “The League of Nations has been a disappointment. […] During the war, the combining of resources and allied organization was a result of collective action, but I had forgotten that this collective action was the result of war, of the absolute necessity to got along” [Roussel, page 102]. He understood that governments look out for their own interests and not solutions to the problems.
Despite everything, he admitted that this experience changed his life and influenced his actions in the long term.
9 – What did Jean Monnet do during the inter war period?
After his resignation from the League of Nations, Jean Monnet went back to take care of his family’s business in 1924. Though, after his experience in international commerce and his time at the LoN, he felt that his vocation was no longer in selling Cognac. He entrusted the house’s management to his cousins and thought of going in a new direction with international activities. It was then when he was contacted by an American investment firm in New York, “Blair & Co.” This company’s work consisted of producing bank stocks and investing in public loans assured by the government. However, in certain cases, his role was to fix up and stabilize money weakened by the war. Monnet became the vice-president of the French branch of “Blair & Co”, and played an important part in France’s monetary stabilization in 1926. In 1927, he participated in Poland’s economic recovery with its own currency, the Zloty, and then did the same thing in Romania in 1928. In 1929, Jean Monnet founded and co-chaired a major American bank in San Francisco: Bancamerica-Blair. It’s thanks to Cognac that he acquired his mastery in sales and marketing, and thanks to the LoN that he developed his knowledge of legal and diplomatic mechanisms. Add that to banking and high international finance experience by the time he was 41 years old.
10 - Was Jean Monnet married? Did he have children?
In 1929, Jean Monnet’s life changed dramatically. This “hardened bachelor” (Roussel, page 133) during a dinner he gave at his home, met the spouse of one of his advisors, Francisco Giannini. He then fell in love with Silvia, born de Bondini, a young 22-year-old Italian woman. This love was quickly shared, but his country didn’t allow divorce. “I had tried to find a solution to marry my wife in every country possible and imaginable: in Italy, the United States, elsewhere still, but I discovered that when I was alone in Shanghai, even in China, I would not be able to find a solution.” (Roussel, page 157)
For five years, his lawyer friends tried to find ways to get around this judicial impasse in which the couple found themselves, unfortunately without any result. It was a soon-to-be-known Polish doctor of the League of Nations, future founder of UNICEF, Ludwik Rajchman, who advised them to go to the USSR to get married. There, it was possible for Silvia to divorce unilaterally and remarry. On 13 November 1934, the couple went to Moscow. Silvia adopted a Soviet nationality, got divorced, and then legally married Jean Monnet.
Thirty years later, the couple celebrated a religious marriage in Lourdes. From their marriage, they had two children: Anna and Marianne.
11 – Why did Jean Monnet go to China?
It was Ludwik Rajchman, a Polish friend of Jean Monnet, leading a League of Nations trip to China, who suggested that he come and work there. Indeed, he understood the problems with this country and found that Monnet could be useful. Jean Monnet came to China for the first time in 1933, but had only met Dr. Soong, the brother-in-law of Chiang Kai-shek, in Europe a little later. Dr. Soong was a minister and special advisor within the Kuomintang
On Rajchman’s recommendation, Dr. Soong called Monnet to China to establish a reconstruction plan aimed at attracting international capital.
Even if Jean Monnet was invited by the Chinese government, his mission remained private in nature, and not under a League of Nations mandate. Indeed Japan, a member of the League of Nations and enemy of China, opposed Monnet’s mission. Thus, from 1934 to 1936, Jean Monnet participated in the reorganization of the Chinese railway and financial systems.
From this experience, Jean Monnet maintained: “If it was easy for me to deal with Dr. Soong, whose culture was European, I didn’t finish learning the art of negotiating with traditional Chinese businessmen. It took me a while to understand that in China, you do not ask for an answer, but rather you figure it out…” (Memoirs, page 134).
12 – Why did Jean Monnet plan a total union between France and the United Kingdom in June 1940?
In December 1939, having shown what he could do during World War I, Jean Monnet became President of the Franco-British Coordination Committee in London. The goal of this committee was to coordinate the actions of five permanent executive offices, created 18 October 1939 by an agreement signed by Daladier and Chamberlain. These offices took care of supplies, weapons and raw materials, petroleum, and air and naval transports. They wanted, and needed, to establish a needs program for the Allies, an inventory of resources, and to decide upon an importation program. Jean Monnet was more and more persuaded by the usefulness of a strong union between France and the United Kingdom.
When the French government moved to Bordeaux, General de Gaulle, René Pleven and Winston Churchill came together on 16 June 1940. The goal of this meeting was to dictate, by telephone, the “Declaration of a Total Union” to the President of the French Council; Paul Reynaud. This project aimed to avoid a French defeat with the creation of a single nation, a single Parliament, and a single cabinet. However; it did not succeed, and this day was deemed by Jean Monnet as the “day of missed opportunities” (Memoirs, page 35). Consequently, Paul Reynaud resigned that same night and was replaced by Philippe Pétain who signed the armistice on 22 June.
13 – What was the relationship between Jean Monnet and General de Gaulle?
They were a part of the same generation. Jean Monnet came from peasant farmers from the Charente region and became wealthy thanks to his business. Charles de Gaulle came from a more cultivated, liberal, bourgeoisie and Catholic family. The traditional education of de Gaulle was far different than that of Monnet. He went to Catholic school, mastered in Greek, Latin, and German, the language of the enemy. But unlike Monnet, de Gaulle did not know the Anglo-Saxon world. He went to Saint-Cyr in 1909 and became an officer, while Jean Monnet was traveling the world to sell his Cognac.
They met in London on 16 June 1940, when de Gaulle just arrived in England. At this time, Jean Monnet and his English and French advisors drafted a project of a total union between France and Great Britain. De Gaulle participated in this project, but he wasn’t convinced of its effectiveness. According to him, this project was an “invented myth, like the other myths, by Jean Monnet” (Discussion between De Gaulle and Henri Amouroux published by Paris Match, cited by Eric Roussel, page 241).
The night of 17 June, de Gaulle was invited to dinner at Monnet’s home. The two men did not agree on the resistance against the invaders. De Gaulle wanted above all to liberate France. Jean Monnet thought that they must first defeat the Nazis while forming an alliance with the English. According to Jean Lacouture, it was that night after the dinner that de Gaulle started his appeal of 18 June 1940. Following this, Monnet reproached his lack of confidence in de Gaulle, who didn’t speak about his intentions. Further, Monnet did not agree with de Galle’s unilateral resistance strategy. For Monnet, it was necessary to unite the French Resistance with the support of the Allies.
However, the two men respected each other and came together to agree on certain major decisions for their country. For example, at the end of the war, de Gaulle put Monnet in charge of the Planning Commission team. This important commission involved the reconstruction and modernization of France.
14 – What is the symbolic value of Jean Monnet’s house in Houjarray?
Jean Monnet bought his house in Houjarray in 1945 from a Swedish doctor. There, he met with many important people, including Schuman, Eisenhower, and Adenauer. Together, they discussed the future of France, of Europe, and of the World. He often started his days by walking through the neighboring forest to open up into his thoughts.
In 1950, in the middle of the Cold War, Jean Monnet analyzed Germany’s position, divided since 1949. He mentions: “another war is near if we don’t do anything” (Memoirs, page 342). He thought that France alone could make a decision of a lasting peace with Germany. Thus, he came to a possible solution with two advisors, Etienne Hirsch (a mining engineer) and Paul Reuter (law professor and jurisconsult, or law specialist). In April 1950, together at Jean’s home, they devised the proposition for the creation of a Franco-German union. They established the basis for the European Coal and Steel Community (CECA), created 9 May 1950 at the time of Robert Schuman’s speech. This community existed to place the production of Franco-German coal and steel under one international authority. It also invited other European countries to participate.
15 – Where does Jean Monnet rest today?
Jean Monnet died 16 March 1979 at the age of 91 at his residence in Houjarray, in Yvelines. He was buried in Bazoches-sur-Guyonne Cemetery. However, nine years later, at the request of the Friends of Jean Monnet Association and by the decision of François Mitterand, President of the Republic, his remains were moved to the Pantheon on 9 November 1988, exactly one hundred years after his birth. His wife Silvia, who passed away in 1982 at the age of 75, remains in the cemetery in Bazoches-sur-Guyonne.
16 – What became of Jean Monnet’s house in Houjarray?
After the death of her husband, Silvia left the family home to live near her son in Rome. She sold the house to the European Parliament in 1982. Parliament undertook its restoration from 1984 to 1987. Then, the Friends of Jean Monnet Association, founded in 1986, took care of reconstructing the interior, in which Jean Monnet and his colleagues conceived the CECA. The Association received financial aid from the Superior Council of Cultural Patronage, the French Electricity Foundation, the Île-de-France Agriculture Fund, the Île-de-France Regional Council, and the Yvelines General Council. In 1990, it changed its name and became the Jean Monnet Association. It then signed an agreement with the European Parliament, who entrusted to it the management and coordination of the “house where Europe was born.” Today, the Home of Jean Monnet, common heritage for Europeans, is open to the public every day of the week for free. It welcomes between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors each year who come from all over the world, and hosts about 250 conferences per year.
17 – Does the Monnet Cognac still exist today?
Jean Monnet progressively left the Cognac brandy business. In 1963, the year the Franco-German friendship treaty was signed, he sold his family business to Sharlachberg, a Germany company. In 1985, the company sold Monnet cognac to Hennessy. Today, the Monnet family home in Cognac serves as the office for the company Hennessy. In the “chai” (local word used to mean a wine or brandy warehouse) of the property, the “J.G. Monnet & Company” cognac continues to slowly mature. It is sold as V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale, a cognac at least 4 and a half years old) for 1% of its production in France. The other 99% is distributed in 28 other foreign countries, notably in Finland where the Jean Monnet cognac has been the leading brand since the beginning 20th century.