Eclipsing Atlantis: Economic Ideas of Trans-Atlantic Multilateralism in Monetary Affairs and Trade and the Genesis of European Integration (1942-1950)

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Mathieu Segers, Faculty of Humanities, Utrecht, The Netherlands


    Pre-1950 western multilateralism built a ‘laboratory’, in which different initiatives for European integration were developed and tested long before the plan of the European Coal and Steel Community existed. The evolution of this trans-Atlantic world was shaped by ongoing – and still highly topical – debates on the ‘dialectics’ of free world capitalism, such as those between domestic and international stability, growth and control, and social cohesion and competitiveness. Indeed, to a certain extent, Bretton Woods, GATT and European integration, were all part of the same quest for welfare and stability via resilient capitalism and democracy, which took off in the early 1940s. For postwar attempts of European integration this meant that these had to be compatible with the trans-Atlantic institutions already in the making, if they were to stand a chance. This paper fleshes out the multilateral dimension in the new trans-Atlantic thinking in economics of the 1940s, and connects this to the practical post-war planning of European cooperation. The over-arching aim of the paper is to (re-)integrate the study of post-war western multilateralism by linking economics theories and ideas to the history of the negotiations and plan-making concerning the design of key institutions of the post-war West (e.g. IMF, GATT, European Payments Union). Central to the paper is the search for the economic ideas that have been dominant in this process of institution building. The paper is based on both archival research (focused on multilateral negotiations), and in-depth assessment of the ‘battle of economic ideas’ that fuelled the feverish testing of institutional arrangements for trans-Atlantic and European cooperation in the laboratory of western multilateralism during the 1940s. The inventory of the latter ideas is inspired by the archival research, yet very relevant to fathom the dilemma’s of Europe’s current crises.