[Book Review] Les États-Unis et l’unification monétaire de l’Europe

Review published in the Journal of European Integration History, Volume 17, No. 2, 2011.

Dimitri GRYGOWSKI, Les États-Unis et l’unification monétaire de l’Europe, Peter Lang, Bruxelles, 2009, 474 p. – ISBN 978-90-5201-489-0 – 50,50 €.

21489_coverLes États-Unis et l’unification monétaire de l’Europe is an important book on how the US dealt with European monetary unification in most of the second half of the twentieth century. The author has used an impressive range of secondary material, and, most importantly, primary sources. Dimitri Grygowski has analysed many archival documents, from the State Department, the National Security Council and the various presidential archives (Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Reagan), and made good use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The book is organised in a chronological fashion, covering four main periods (the 1960s and early 1970s; the mid- to late 1970s; the EMS; and finally the road to the euro), the whole book being divided into nine more specific chapters.

The result is a convincing analysis of the influence of the US on European monetary cooperation, the functioning of the US administration, and also the evolution of the international monetary system. It uncovers divergences of views within the US administration as well as its position, far from being monolithic, on the European story. It reflects well the two central motivations of European monetary unification, internal (protecting the acquis communautaire) and most obviously given the book’s topic, external (reacting to international events, in particular US actions).

A first obvious important dimension of the book is that it places European integration in wider international developments. European integration seems sometimes confined to an internal European story, deprived of external influences. In the case of monetary affairs as in others however, monetary relations do not stop at Europe’s borders. Washington-Bonn is for instance a central axis of the European monetary story. European monetary developments were (are) affected by international ones – and vice-versa. Focusing on the US influence on European monetary unification leads Grygoswki to analyse European monetary developments in a changing world monetary system (and from the early 1970s onwards, non-system): the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, or the numerous disagreements between EEC members on the strategy to adopt are obvious cases in point. The discussion about the creation of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), in 1967, also interestingly constituted the first encounter between European monetary union and the resistance to an American position, as Grygowski convincingly argues (p.47 and pp.67-69). Yet this should not lead to conclude that the US necessarily played a major role in all European monetary developments. A second significant aspect of the book indeed concerns the actual role of the US in European monetary affairs. On closer inspection, the role of the US is in fact of unequal importance: 1978 witnessed for instance “l’apathie de l’Amérique”, caught between a desire to influence (if not control the perimeter of) the negotiations over the new European monetary scheme, and a declared stance in favour of European integration (p.232).

A final important quality of the book is the long-term perspective it offers. It could conversely be seen as an inconvenient, in that the author could have delved into more details for each chapter. Yet clearly the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. All too often, historical works are confined to very narrow topics and very specific time periods. Here the analysis covers thirty years, from 1968 until 1998. And the analysis of specific events, though certainly not as detailed as it would have been in a book more narrowly focused, is very rich and precise. Crucially therefore, Grygowski’s book offers a sufficiently long time-span to make an informed judgement about how the US attitude has changed over three decades.

Les États-Unis et l’unification monétaire de l’Europe is therefore a welcome addition to the literature, shedding new light on an important aspect of postwar European history – and very helpful to understand today’s situation.