On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, a retired soldier, outlined one of the most important policies in U.S. and European history – the European Recovery Program, which quickly became known as the Marshall Plan.
The United States offered billions of dollars to rebuild war-devastated Europe, but only if European nations would cooperate to share the aid money for the benefit of the entire region. The United States demanded that each nation receiving Marshall Plan funds also invest an identical amount of its own money in reconstruction projects. Marshall offered aid to the Soviet Union and its allies, but Joseph Stalin refused the offer. By the time the Marshall Plan ended in 1952, the United States had invested $13 billion, and nations receiving the funds experienced the most rapid growth in European history.
Marshall’s requirement for economic cooperation set in motion a trend toward European integration that included the Schuman Plan, the Coal and Iron Community, the Common Market and, eventually, the European Union (EU). On the 60th anniversary of Marshall’s speech, the EU encompassed 27 nations and 500 million people with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $14 trillion, exceeding the GDP of the United States.