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Clinton, EU mark 50th anniversary of Marshall Plan

May 28, 1997
Web posted at: 9:33 a.m. EDT (1333 GMT)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton and European heads of state gathered at The Hague Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, the U.S. aid effort that lifted Europe from the widespread destruction of World War II.

The leaders attended a twice-yearly European Union summit Wednesday before the ceremonies honoring the Marshall Plan were to begin.

"Through our work here, we have taken another step on the path that began with Gen. Marshall's vision," Clinton said after the summit, where the U.S. and EU reached basic accord on coordinating standards for testing pharmaceuticals and other products.

The Marshall Plan was the vision of then-U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall, the Army's chief of staff during World War II who saw the devastation firsthand.

By June 1947, with the fighting more than two years in the past, little reconstruction had taken place across the continent. Hunger and unemployment were widespread. Historic cities were in ruins.

rebuilding Europe

Implementing the plan

U.S. officials feared if conditions continued to worsen, communism would spread into central and western Europe. It was at this time that Marshall gave a brief commencement address at Harvard University and proposed to help war-ravaged Europe.

"Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos," he said during the June 5, 1947, address. "Its purpose should be the revival of an economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."

His vision unleashed one of the world's most ambitious economic recovery plans in history.

"If we decide to do this thing, we can do it successfully," Marshall said. "And there's no doubt in my mind that the whole world hangs in the balance as to what is to be."

unemployment line

Keeping communism in check

Under the plan, the U.S. opened its stockpiles and treasury to Europe. Within five years, more than $15 billion -- the equivalent of $88 billion today -- poured into the continent, including Germany.

Nations under communist control were offered aid, but the Soviet Union refused and threatened to use force against Eastern Bloc nations that accepted aid. The Soviets' heavy-handed tactics persuaded some reluctant U.S. officials to approve the plan.

And many historians say the plan not only helped Europe recover, but it also held communism in check.

"The Marshall Plan was primarily a political program to contain communism in western European countries by stabilizing the existing economies or helping transform economies and industries destroyed by war," Vienna University historian Oliver Ratkolb said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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