The European Recovery Program, the official name of the better known as the Marshall Plan, was a program through which the United States tried to facilitate the reconstruction and recovery of Europe after World War II.
It was developed between 1948 and 1952. The plan, which took its name from the Secretary of State who designed it, George Marshall, consisted of providing aid worth more than 12,000 million dollars to the European countries that suffered the conflict .
The causes that motivated the Marshall Plan
The Marshall Plan, although intended to serve as the basis for the economic and social recovery of European countries after World War II, was not selfless aid. The reality of that moment, at the dawn of the Cold War, led the United States to become involved in the reconstruction of a Europe that would serve to stop the expansion of Soviet-influenced communism. This measure under the influence of the Truman Doctrine, according to which it was necessary to support “the free peoples” in their fight against “the attempts of subjugation by armed minorities or by external pressure”, in clear reference to the Soviet Union and guerrilla groups or political parties of this tendency.
It also influenced, and not a little, in this decision that a Europe destroyed and without economic capacity could not import American products. Therefore, one of the reasons was to support North American industry and companies in their attempt to export their products to the Old Continent.
Therefore, by supporting the reconstruction of Europe, it was hoped to contribute to the creation of prosperous societies, in which labor rights existed in a context of economic and social well-being. In this way, it was expected that in a situation of poverty, inequality and social destructuring, the workers of Western Europe would be seduced by the socialist ideas and the pro-Soviet regimes that were implanted in Eastern Europe. The plan was supported by the two great American parties: the Democrat and the Republican.
Who benefited from the Marshall Plan?
The countries that received this aid and were beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan were diverse. However, the economic amount they received was different. The more than 12,000 million dollars were distributed according to criteria that considered the population and industrial capacity. The philosophy on which it was based was the belief that if the strongest countries took off, they would pull the rest of the European nations. It was also assessed whether they had been allied countries during the war, whether they were neutral or if, instead, they participated in the Axis camp.
The most benefited country was the United Kingdom, which received 26% of the total. France, 18%. West Germany, 11%. Instead, the Soviet Union rejected for itself and for the countries under its orbit to participate in this aid program, which they considered an instrument of imperialism that would compromise their sovereignty and independence.
The implementation of the Marshall Plan
To implement the Marshall Plan, an entity called the Administration for Economic Cooperation (ACE) was created in the United States. The rest of the countries, the beneficiaries, in turn, created the European Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECE), in order to efficiently manage aid. Among the member countries were France, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Greece, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Iceland, Turkey and Greece. These last two were important due to their peripheral situation and internal political circumstances. Later Spain, Canada and the United States, among others, joined.
North American aid was transferred to local governments, although the administration was joint between them and the ACE. An ACE commissioner was in charge of advising on the best way to manage the amounts received.
The US government achieved the objective of promoting the purchase of products from its companies by Europe. First necessities were bought, but soon other types of products were bought to rebuild cities and infrastructure.
It is estimated that of the almost 13,000 million dollars, around 3,400 were dedicated to raw materials and semi-invoiced products, 3,200 in food, fertilizers and linen, 1,900 in machinery and vehicles and 1,600 in fuels.
The consequences of the Marshall Plan
Between the years the Marshall Plan was in operation, from 1948 to 1952, Europe experienced an evident improvement in its economy. However, there are divergent interpretations on whether the Marshall Plan was the trigger or was simply one more factor influencing that development.
In any case, the reality is that in that period industrial production increased by 35%. The agricultural one, for its part, was above the existing levels before the War. As a consequence hunger and extreme poverty were strongly reduced and an overall improvement in the standard of living was achieved.
There are also interpretations that indicate that the application of the plan laid the foundation to create the foundations on which international organizations, such as the European Communities, precedents of the current European Union, would be built.
Despite the different interpretations and visions, what seems clear is that the Marshall Plan was a far-reaching measure that, undoubtedly, contributed significantly to our world having developed its current configuration.