The Marshall Plan (1947-1952)

The Marshall Plan (1947-1952)

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The marshall plan was a financial aid program, developed by US Secretary of State George Marshall in 1947. Its objective was to help rebuild Europe, devastated by World War II. It is as much the fear of seeing a Europe ruined by war cease to supply itself with American products, as the prospect of seeing communism progress on the Old Continent, which incites the American authorities to propose this plan of economic assistance. to European countries. Between April 1948 and June 1952, more than 13 billion dollars will be devoted to the financing of this plan, most of these funds being granted as grants.

The objectives of the Marshall Plan

This program to help rebuild European countries was proposed on June 5, 1947 by General Marshall, then US Secretary of State. In this Harvard speech, General Marshall calls on all countries of Europe, including the U.S.S.R. and the communist countries, offering American assistance for the material reconstruction and financial recovery of Europe. It is nothing less than avoiding the economic, social and political dislocation of the old continent. It is also not lost on American politicians and economists that the economic fragility of Weimar Germany, resulting in part from the policy of reparations, played an important role in the coming to power of the National Socialists.

This speech is part of the American policy expressed through the doctrine of President Harry Truman, the objective of which is to help States protect themselves from communism (policy of “containment”). Even if, at the outset, American aid was offered to all the countries of Europe (including the USSR and the Communist States), it was nevertheless intended primarily for non-Communist nations and is an example of the American will to turn towards Europe. To this ideological and political will, we must add an economic reason: Europe indeed represents a promising market; However, because of the scarcity of the dollar, the European states risk no longer importing and the United States of being faced with a crisis of overproduction, no longer able to sell their goods.

Soviet refusal of American aid

Following the American offer, Bidault, Bevin and Mololov, foreign ministers of France, Great Britain and the U.S.S.R., met in Paris on June 27, 1947, but could not come to an agreement. Molotov refuses to join a comprehensive plan on the pretext of preserving national sovereignty. Marshall aid was therefore accepted only by the countries of Western Europe, the U.S.S.R. and the communist countries of the East showing towards it an attitude towards it soon clearly hostile. The acceptance of the Marshall Plan marked the end of the communist collaboration with the other parties in France and Italy. In reaction to the Marshall Plan, the Soviet Union decided to create the Cominform, the Communist Information Office, in September 1947, which aimed to harmonize the policies of the Communist parties of the Eastern European States, as well as than those of the French and Italian Communist Parties.

According to the law signed by President Truman on April 2, 1948, the Marshall Plan was scheduled for a period of four years, until June 30, 1952; by the latter date, European countries receiving US aid were believed to have successfully overcome their economic and financial difficulties. The Marshall Plan was accepted by sixteen countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, countries -Bas, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, to which federal Germany joined after its birth in 1949. The effort is considerable, it is estimated that it will represent about 1.5% of the American GDP in five years.

Reconstruction of Europe against the backdrop of the Cold War

American aid was offered on particularly advantageous terms (85% free of charge, 15% in long-term loans), but it imposed on Western Europe an orientation towards a lasting European economic community. Indeed, the Marshall Plan saw Europe as a whole. Two bodies administered the plan: one, the Economic Cooperation Administration (E.C.A.), was American and distributed the funds, which were distributed by a European body, the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (O.E.C.E.).

Essentially distributed in the form of donations, this aid will total more than $ 13 billion. Receiving 26% of the credits, the United Kingdom is the main beneficiary. It is followed by France (22%), Italy and West Germany (11%). Under Marshall Plan aid, France alone therefore received more than $ 2.8 billion, to which were added other important credits. The Marshall Plan was in fact only one aspect of American aid: from 1945 to 1964, American assistance to the whole world amounted to 97 billion dollars, of which France, for its part, obtained $ 4 billion 443 million.

When Cold War tensions intensified in 1949, funds were increasingly used to finance military spending, to the detriment of industrial reconstruction. Above all, accompanied on the political level by the isolation of the communist parties in the countries of Western Europe, the Marshall Plan, if it contributed to the economic recovery of many countries, also reinforced the cut between the capitalist countries and the communist countries in Europe, a cut that was to be at the center of the cold war.

This aid will have enabled these economies not to collapse while ensuring the short-term prosperity of the United States. Nevertheless, the Marshall Plan was nonetheless criticized both by the supporters of economic liberalism (who saw it as an excuse to maintain the interventionism of times of war, as well as an obstacle to the free market) and by the socialists who did so. decried as an instrument of domination in the hands of the United States. In any case, the Marshall Plan has since remained as a benchmark in terms of economic support, to such an extent that it has become a frequently used expression, whether for the environment or aid for the reconstruction of 'Haiti.


- The Marshall Plan and the Economic Recovery of Europe. Colloquium held in Bercy on March 21, 22, 23, 1991.

- American strategy and Europe, by Bruno Colson. Economica, 1997.

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