Contemporary European History


The Difficult Path to an Economic Rule of Law: European Competition Policy, 1950–91


a1 University of Artois-CREHS; 24 avenue des fleurs, F-59110 La Madeleine, France;

a2 Rue Rollebeek 24a, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium;


A historical retelling of European competition policy is crucial to understanding the discrepancy between the rules in the treaties and their implementation. The historian must navigate treacherous waters between contrasting treaty stipulations in the ECSC and in the EEC Treaties, initial attempts at rigorous implementation but with limited effect on the ground, and a complicated relationship between the supranational institutions. Only in the 1980s did the Commission enjoy the benefits of the ECJ's supportive case law. These benefits came due to a fortunate conjuncture of political, economical and administrative factors.

Le difficile chemin vers un droit économique européen: La politique de la concurrence communautaire, 1950–91

L'histoire de la politique de la concurrence est marquée par un décalage entre les règles des traités et leur application. L'historien doit dépasser des contradictions entre des dispositions très différentes dans les deux traités CECA et CEE, une tentative d'application rigoureuse mais avec des effets limités au début, et une relation complexe entre les institutions supranationales. Il faut attendre les années 1980 pour que la Commission bénéficie pleinement de la jurisprudence de la Cour de Justice. Cette situation est liée à une conjonction de facteurs politiques, économiques et administratifs très spécifique et exceptionnelle.

Der schwierige Weg zu einem wirtschaftlichen ‘Rechtsstaat’: Die europäische Wettbewerbspolititk, 1950–1991

Eine historische Analyse der Wettbewerbspolitik verdeutlicht die Unterschiede zwischen den formellen Regeln und der Rechtswirklichkeit. Der Historiker muss die Unterschiede und Widersprüche der verschiedenen Regeln im EGKS- und EWG Vertrag herausarbeiten: anfangs der Versuch einer entschlossenen Anwendung, mit noch begrenzten Ergebnissen und komplexen Beziehungen zwischen supranationalen Institutionen. Erst in den achtziger Jahren wird die Kommission vom Europäischen Gerichtshof voll unterstützt. Diese Situation erklärt sich auch aufgrund günstiger politischer und wirtschaftlicher Rahmenbedingungen.

(Online publication June 13 2012)

Laurent Warlouzet is a lecturer at the University of Artois (Arras, France) and at Sciences Po (Paris). A historian of European integration, he has a particular interest in institutional and economic issues. To date he has published four books including: his PhD: Le Choix de la CEE par la France: Les débats économiques de Pierre Mendès-France à Charles de Gaulle (1955–1969); a working paper on the history of competition policy: The Rise of European Competition Policy, 1950–1991: A Cross-Disciplinary Survey of a Contested Policy Sphere; and several articles, including ‘De Gaulle as a Father of Europe: The Unpredictability of the FTA's Failure and the EEC's Success (1956–1958)’, Contemporary European History, 20, 4 (2011), 419–34.

Tobias Witschke is an official of the European Commission at the Directorate General for Regional Policy. In recent years he has been working for an EU Executive Agency and national and local authorities in EU programme management on budgetary law and procedures. He completed his PhD in 2003 at the European University Institute, Florence, under the supervision of Alan S. Milward, on the historical roots of European competition policy (ECSC) and the ‘reconcentration’ of the West German steel industry from 1950 to 1963. A revised edition of the dissertation has been published by Akademieverlag in Germany, Gefahr für den Wettbewerb? Die Rekonzentration der Ruhrstahlindustrie und die Wettbewerbspolitik der EGKS (Akademieverlag, 2009).


The authors wish to thank the editors, Bill Davies and Morten Rasmussen, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author(s).