Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/24


Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Thursday, May 22, 1919, at 4 p.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
    • Italy
      • H. E. M. Orlando.
Sir Maurice Hankey K. C. B. } Secretaries.
Count Aldrovandi.
Prof. P. J. Mantoux.—Interpreter.

The following experts on the Saar Valley were also present:—

  • United States of America
    • Dr. Haskins.
  • British Empire
    • Sir Eyre Crowe, K. C. B., K. C. M. G.
    • Mr. Headlam-Morley.
  • France
    • M. Tardieu.

The Saar Valley: Replies to the Letters of the German Delegation 1. During the assembly of the meeting on the Reparation Clauses for the Treaty with Austria, the Council examined the re-drafts of the letters prepared by the Committee in reply to the of letters from the German Delegation on the subject of the Saar Valley, dated May 13th and May 16th.1

After a short discussion the letters attached in the Appendix were approved, a few small modifications being introduced.

Sir Maurice Hankey was instructed to communicate these letters to the Secretary-General of the Peace Conference for the following action:—

For preparation of a fair copy for signature by the President of the Conference and despatch.
For communication to the Drafting Committee, in order that the necessary alteration might be made in the Treaty of Peace.
For publication after despatch.

Villa Majestic, Paris, 22 May, 1919.

[Page 827]

Appendix to CF–24

Draft of Proposed Answer to Letter of Count Brockdorff-Rantzau of May 13, 1919

Monsieur le President, (Mr. President)—I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of May 13th, 1919.2

The Allied and Associated Governments absolutely deny that any one of the provisions referred to in the said letter may have as a consequence to transfer peoples from one allegiance to another “as though they were but mere things or pawns”. In fact for all the territories in question the wishes of the people will be consulted. The procedure to be followed in such consultations is settled with due regard to local conditions.

On the other hand, as regards more particularly clause 36 of the Annex concerning the Saar Basin, the result which would ensue from the interpretation placed upon that clause in your letter of May 13 is emphatically not one which the Allied and Associated Governments ever contemplated.

The said Governments, accordingly, while adhering to their point of view, beg to remark that:

Such reparation as is constituted by the cession of the mines is not merely a special reparation limited to coal, but a part of the general reparation due by Germany for the systematical destructions carried out by her. Article 45 of the Peace Treaty makes the point quite clear.
The Allied and Associated Governments object to the population of that basin being represented as purely German; it is on account of the complex character of that population that special provisions have been made. The plebiscite arranged at the conclusion of the fifteen years’ period, will make it possible to form an absolutely impartial opinion, not indeed for the benefit of either France or Germany, but from the sole consideration of the interest of the populations, as freely decided by them.
It cannot in any way be contended that the Saar Basin would be placed under French control by the change in the Government. The “domination” that is termed as “hateful” in your letter of May 13th is the administration of the League of Nations.
The Treaty ensures to the inhabitants the continuation of all their present guarantees and liberties: it also provides for a number of special advantages of a fiscal or social character in their favour.
No confusion exists in the Treaty between the trade contracts to be established for the coal from the Ruhr district (see Annex 5 of part 8.) and the cession of the Saar mines; the two questions are essentially distinct, as stated above under paragraph I.
With regard to the difficulties which you apprehend as to Germany’s ability to effect the payment in gold contemplated under clause 36, the Allied and Associated Governments, desirous of avoiding all possibility of misunderstanding, have decided to word the last paragraph of the said clause as follows:

“If, nevertheless, Germany, after a period of one year, shall not have effected the said payment, the Reparation Commission shall do so in accordance with such instructions as may be given by the League of Nations and, if necessary, by liquidating that part of the mines as is in question.”

In the matter of cessions of territories to Belgium, full liberty is ensured for popular opinion to express itself within a period of six months, in the districts of Malmedy and Eupen. The only exception that has been made applies to that part of the territory of Prussian Moresnet lying west of the road from Liege to Aix-la-Chapelle, the population of which numbers less than 500 inhabitants, and in which the woods are transferred to Belgium as part reparation for the destruction of forests by Germany on Belgian territory.

As regards Slesvig, this question was taken up by the Peace Conference on the request of the Danish Government and the population of Slesvig.

Draft Answer to the Letter of Count Brochdorff-Rantzau, Dated 17 [16] May, 1919

I have the honour to acknowledge Your Excellency’s letter of the 17th [16th] May,3 enclosing a memorandum from German experts which makes a proposal for supplying France with coal otherwise than by the transfer of the mines of the Saar.

Subject to the modified procedure indicated in my previous letter, the settlement of the question of the Saar Basin made by the treaty is maintained in its general lines and the Allied and Associated Governments are unable in this respect to agree to any change.

The proposal of the German experts rightly notes that the transfer to France of the coal mines of the Saar Basin is to be effected “as compensation for the destruction of the coal mines in the North of France and as part payment towards the total reparation due from Germany for the damage resulting from the war”. It does not, however, keep these twofold ends clearly in view in the alternative arrangements which it proposes and which it seeks to assimilate to the right of option on the purchase of certain quantities of German coal, provided for in Part VII, Annex V, which is quite a distinct matter.

Any such arrangement as proposed for the supplying of a quantity of coal other than the quantity provided in Part VIII, Annex V, [Page 829] inevitably involves a still greater degree of uncertainty than contemplated at the end of Clause X of that Annex. No arrangement of this sort could give France the security and the certainty which she would derive from the full ownership and free exploitation of the mines of the Saar Basin.

Similarly, the proposed handing over of shares in German coal mines, situated in German territory and subject to German exploitation, would be of doubtful value to French holders and would create a confusion of French and German interests which cannot be at present contemplated.

The complete and immediate transfer to France of mines adjacent to the French frontier, with a proportionate credit upon the reparation account due from Germany, constitutes a more prompt, secure and businesslike settlement of the matter of compensation for the destruction of French coal mines, while at the same time it makes full use of these mines as a means of payment on the general account of reparation.

The object of the measures provided for in Article 49 and in Chapter II of the Annex to Part III, Section IV, to which the note of the German experts refers is stated in Article 46, namely, ‘to assure the rights and welfare of the population and to guarantee to France complete freedom in working the mines’. These measures are quite independent of the occupation provided in Part XIV, Section I.

As regards Clause 38 of the Annex to the Treaty, relating to the Saar, it has already been said and it is hereby confirmed that this Clause applies only to the special agreements which may eventually be arrived at between France and Germany, respecting the re-purchase of the French proprietary rights in case the League of Nations should, after a plebiscite, decide at the end of fifteen years in favour of the union with Germany of all or part of the territory of the Saar Basin. Resort to the procedure contemplated under the said Clause is therefore at present out of question.

As for the quality of the coal and the places of delivery, these are, as already stated, questions distinct from that of the Saar, and are settled by Part VIII of the Treaty.

Your economic propositions are therefore in the opinion of the Allied and Associated Governments unworkable. They provide none of the necessary guarantees mentioned in Articles 45, 46, 47.

In conclusion, the Allied and Associated Governments declare generally that if a particular form of reparation was chosen as regards the Saar Basin, this was done because it was felt that the destruction of the mines in the North of France was an act of such a nature that a definite and striking retribution must be exacted, different from the mere supply of a specified or unspecified amount of coal.

  1. Appendices II and III to CF–23, pp. 817 and 820.
  2. Appendix II to CF–23, p. 817.
  3. Appendix III to CF–23, p. 820.