Saarland – A European History
The Saarland is a modern, cosmopolitan German federal state in the heart of Europe. An immediate neighbour of France and Luxembourg, it has developed into a region in which international cooperation in politics and commerce has become as much a matter of course as cross-border practices in cultural and everyday life. A European consciousness and lifestyle inspired by the French joie de vivre connect the citizens of this youngest of the old West German states.
Saarland’s special character is the product of a long and varied, yet often conflict-ridden history. This exhibition follows the course of such a European history up to the birth of the Saarland as a German federal state almost one hundred years ago. The aim is to show that Saarland’s self-awareness and the special relationship it enjoys with its European neighbours did not begin to develop after it became a German federal state but had, in fact, already taken root when the Saarland was under the administration of the League of Nations in the 1920s. Nevertheless, it was only after the painful ordeals of two world wars and the experiences of the conflicts resulting in two referendums that the particular learning process was set in motion, which would firmly establish the spirit of friendship and reconciliation and make the Saarland the most Frenchified and most European of all the German federal states.
Saarland under the French
Between 1935 and 1945 the Saarlanders, as part of the Third Reich, lived through totalitarian dictatorship, war and collapse. In May 1945 the Americans liberated the region. In July the French took over the military control of Saarland and separated it from the German occupied zones. Under French patronage an independent Saar state was set up, economically joined to France and with strictly limited sovereignty, but for the first time the government was freely elected. The Minister-President was Johannes Hoffmann, chairman of the Christian People's Party, like many other leading politicians a returning emigrant, who worked constructively with the French military authorities under Gilbert Grandval. Reconstruction was swift. The new state had a generous social policy and a liberal cultural policy,
but it restricted internal freedoms and suppressed the pro-German opposition that had been gaining strength since 1951-1952.
The European movement that emerged in the late 1940s was enthusiastically received in Saarland. Plans to make Saarland the first Europeanised state, the forerunner to a united Europe and home of centralised European institutions, swiftly came to fruition in the Saar government. In 1951 Saarbrücken applied to become the seat of the European Coal and Steel Community. A year earlier, the regional university founded in 1948 was designated the European university by its new rector, Jean-François Angelloz. There was strong support for the Saar ‘Nouvelles Équipes Internationales’ and ‘Europa- Union’. Europe became a symbol of hope, which was even used in advertising (‘Europe engine oil’). A European solution to the Saar question was first put forward in detail in Marinus van der Goes van Naters’ Council of Europe plan in 1952. Two years later, French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer agreed, in the Paris Treaties of October 1954, to Europeanise Saarland and bring it under the newly created Western European Union.
The struggle for Europe
The Saar statute in the Paris Accords was ratified by both the French and German Parliaments. It only needed the final consent of the local population, which was initially asked on 23 October 1955 to decide on membership of Europe in a referendum.
To ensure that all points of view were represented, the ban on pro-German parties, the liberal Democratic Party of the Saar (DPS), the Social Democratic DSP and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was lifted three months before the referendum. Their negative attitude to the European statute supported by the government triggered a dramatic electoral struggle that divided society and strongly politicised public life. Even those opposed to the statute were essentially in favour of a united Europe. But they wanted to be ‘Germans’ first and only secondly ‘Europeans’. Two thirds of voters shared that view and voted against the statute. From 1955 onwards, alternatives to a ‘Europe of nations’ were given very little serious consideration in the European integration process.
The road to Germany
The rejection of the European statute did not necessarily spell the end of the partly autonomous Saar state. But 23 October 1955 marked such a dramatic turning point in political opinion that from then on everything led to the integration of Saarland into the Federal Republic as rapidly as possible. On the Saar, the Hoffmann government resigned actually on the night of the election. The December 1955 election finalised the shift of domestic political power started by the referendum. The last foreign policy obstacles to reunification were removed in the 1956 Luxembourg Treaty between Germany and France. By New Year’s Day 1957, Konrad Adenauer was welcoming the newest federal German Land in Saarbrücken. Two and a half years later, on 6 July 1959, the customs frontiers were removed, the German mark replaced the franc as currency and the Saar ceased to go its own way. The mutually agreed solution to the Saar question paved the way for Franco-German friendship.
Development of the region
In many respects, the Luxembourg Treaty governing the integration of Saarland into the Federal Republic also set the course for the European future of the region. A number of plans and projects were developed on the basis of a new partnership between France, Luxembourg and Germany, making ‘SaarLorLux’ an economic and cultural and ultimately also a political reality. The development of the Moselle into a major waterway was an example of how the spirit of European unity could grow out of the solution to a past national problem. The increase in trade and cultural activities such a French Week, the Franco-German garden exhibition and a network of town twinnings brought people together across borders and broadened outlooks in the region. A new awareness of common problems in the old coal and steel triangle developed in the 1960s. Not only was that the origin of the name for what later became the SaarLorLux Euro-Region, but in that context visionary ideas such as the Franco-German free trade centre, CECOFA, and the SaarLor integrated economy were promoted and made a reality.
— Landesarchiv des Saarlandes
— Staatskanzlei des Saarlandes, Öffentlichkeitsarbeit