Section IV.—Saar Basin (Art. 45 to 50)
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, Germany cedes to France in full and absolute possession, with exclusive rights of exploitation, unencumbered and free from all debts and charges of any kind, the coal-mines situated in the Saar Basin as defined in Article 48.
In order to assure the rights and welfare of the population and to guarantee to France complete freedom in working the mines, Germany agrees to the provisions of Chapters I and II of the Annex hereto.
Note to III, 45, 46
At the Paris conference, France wished to annex the Saar district; Great Britain and the United States declined to accept this but agreed to a compromise.
The German delegation declared that the frontiers of the Saar district had been so drawn as to include important industrial districts beyond the coal mines but that the surrender of even the mining districts would be out of proportion to the compensation required (Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vi, 825). The German Government was prepared to guarantee a proper supply of coal—whereas the coal of the Saar mines represented a hundred times the maximum French demands. The population of the Saar was peculiarly uniform and the district had been German for more than 1000 years, except for 68 years when France had possessed it. Now, on account of the coal mines, the people were to be placed under an anomalous government by the League of Nations. “No body representative of the people, with legislative powers, will exist. The population loses all civic rights; it is politically outlawed.” All this was demanded to compensate France for coal destroyed in the north. Such a question could be settled only on an economic basis; solution on any other basis would provide “a fresh source of conflict between the German and French peoples”. The proposed solution would also lower the whole conception of the League of Nations. The German delegation therefore asked for a reconsideration.[Page 163]
On May 16 the German delegation had proposed an inquiry by experts into the amount of coal required by France; Germany would give the mines in northern France a share in German mines sufficient to compensate them for the damage suffered and guarantee to deliver adequate supplies of coal to France and Belgium; in return Germany would retain possession of the Saar (ibid., v, 820). The Allies declined this proposal on May 24 as being of “doubtful value to French holders” and likely to create “a confusion of French and German interests which, under present circumstances, could not be accepted” (ibid., p. 915).
The Allies replied that the German protest showed a “complete misapprehension of the spirit and purpose of this section of the Treaty” (ibid., vi, 942). They had already pointed out that the destruction of the French mines was “an act of such a nature that a definite and exemplary retribution should be exacted” and that “this object would not be obtained by the mere supply of a specified or unspecified amount of coal”. If the German Government refused to carry out reparation which had the character of punishment, “the German idea of justice appears then to be one which excludes a conception which is essential to any just settlement and a necessary basis for subsequent reconciliation”. The Allies insisted that they had exercised the greatest care in order to avoid inflicting on the inhabitants of the district any material or moral injury. In any case the arrangement was temporary, and “at the end of 15 years the inhabitants will have a full and free right to choose the sovereignty under which they are to live”.
The significance of the provisions respecting the Saar Basin lies in the relation of the German destruction of French coal mines with the European iron-ore industry. An ore field lies on the plateau between Verdun, Metz, and Luxembourg, over half of it being in France and most of the remainder in Germany. This minette ore is of two main types—calcareous and argillaceous, the former being “self-fluxing” because of its lime content, and the latter requiring the addition of lime or calcareous ore to produce a “self-fluxing” mixture. The calcareous ore is mostly in the French ore fields. A further complication is the fact that the French and Luxembourg ores require German coking coal for the production of pig iron. The destruction of the French coal mines by the Germans was a wanton act in the last days of their occupation and was intended to cripple the French ore industry. Article 45 attempted to rectify that outrage on the basis of reparation rather than of penalty.[Page 164]
Details of the cession and exploitation of mining properties are set forth in the annex following article 50, paragraphs 1-15. By paragraph 36 of the annex, French rights of ownership were to be repurchased by Germany in their entirety at a price payable in gold in the event of a plebiscitary decision uniting the Saar with Germany. The value of the properties transferred to France had been credited by the Reparation Commission in its accounts at 400,000,000 gold marks.
Since the plebiscite of January 13, 1935 went in favor of union with Germany, the mines were to be repurchased by Germany in gold. Difficulty in carrying out this stipulation had long been a subject of speculation. An agreement signed at Rome on December 3, 1934 provided that the French currency, which had been legal tender in the Saar Basin since April 1921, would be replaced by the German reichsmark as a result of the plebiscite, the retirement of Bank of France notes through the Bank of International Settlements effecting a payment toward the 900,000,000 French francs due from Germany for the French rights and ownership on a gold basis without any transfer of the metal (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1935, ii, 126).
Representatives of the French and German Governments and the Saar Governing Commission met at the offices of the Bank for International Settlements at Basel in January and on February 11, 1935 signed a series of detailed agreements (Bank for International Settlements, Fifth Annual Report, p. 62). In addition to the agreements between France and Germany, the two Governments signed one with the Reichsbank and the Bank for International Settlements and those two banks signed one with the Bank of France (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1935, ii, 149, 151). The French notes and other foreign means of payment amounted to 288,800,000 French francs. French imports of Saar coal were to make up the difference; deliveries continued on a normal basis until the outbreak of war, and as of March 31, 1940 a total sum of 855,300,000 French francs had been paid.
In order to make in due time permanent provision for the government of the Saar Basin in accordance with the wishes of the population, France and Germany agree to the provisions of Chapter III of the Annex hereto.[Page 165]
The boundaries of the territory of the Saar Basin, as dealt with in the present stipulations, will be fixed as follows:
On the south and south-west: by the frontier of France as fixed by the present Treaty.
On the north-west and north: by a line following the northern administrative boundary of the Kreis of Merzig from the point where it leaves the French frontier to the point where it meets the administrative boundary separating the commune of Saarhölzbach from the commune of Britten; following this communal boundary southwards and reaching the administrative boundary of the canton of Merzig so as to include in the territory of the Saar Basin the canton of Mettlach, with the exception of the commune of Britten; following successively the northern administrative boundaries of the cantons of Merzig and Haustadt, which are incorporated in the aforesaid Saar Basin, then successively the administrative boundaries separating the Kreise of Sarrelouis, Ottweiler and Saint-Wendel from the Kreise of Merzig, Trèves (Trier) and the Principality of Birkenfeld as far as a point situated about 500 metres north of the village of Furschweiler (viz., the highest point of the Metzelberg).
On the north-east and east: from the last point defined above to a point about 3½ kilometres east-north-east of Saint-Wendel:
a line to be fixed on the ground passing east of Furschweiler, west of Rosenberg, east of points 418, 329 (south of Roschberg), west of Leitersweiler, northeast of point 464, and following the line of the crest southwards to its junction with the administrative boundary of the Kreis of Kusel;
thence in a southerly direction the boundary of the Kreis of Kusel, then the boundary of the Kreis of Homburg towards the south-south-east to a point situated about 1000 metres west of Dunzweiler;
thence to a point about 1 kilometre south of Hornbach:
a line to be fixed on the ground passing through point 424 (about 1000 metres south-east of Dunzweiler), point 363 (Fuchs-Berg), point 322 (south-west of Waldmohr), then east of Jägersburg and Erbach, then encircling Homburg, passing through the points 361 (about 2½ kilometres north-east by east of that town), 342 (about 2 kilometres south-east of that town), 347 (Schreiners-Berg), 356, 350 (about 1½ kilometres south-east of Schwarzenbach), then passing east of Einöd, south-east of points 322 and 333, about 2 kilometres [Page 166] east of Webenheim, about 2 kilometres east of Mimbach, passing east of the plateau which is traversed by the road from Mimbach to Böckweiler (so as to include this road in the territory of the Saar Basin), passing immediately north of the junction of the roads from Böckweiler and Altheim situated about 2 kilometres north of Altheim, then passing south of Ringweilerhof and north of point 322, rejoining the frontier of France at the angle which it makes about 1 kilometre south of Hornbach (see Map No. 2 scale 1/100,000 annexed to the present Treaty). [Not reproduced.]
A Commission composed of five members, one appointed by France, one by Germany, and three by the Council of the League of Nations, which will select nationals of other Powers, will be constituted within fifteen days from the coming into force of the present Treaty, to trace on the spot the frontier line described above.
In those parts of the preceding line which do not coincide with administrative boundaries, the Commission will endeavour to keep to the line indicated, while taking into consideration, so far as is possible, local economic interests and existing communal boundaries.
The decisions of this Commission will be taken by a majority, and will be binding on the parties concerned.
Note to III, 48
Notes defining the frontiers of the Saar Basin were exchanged between the Conference of Ambassadors and Germany on December 16, 17, 1920 (12 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 40). An agreement with respect to the Saar frontier was signed between France and Germany on December 22, 1920 (77 ibid., p. 141).
Germany renounces in favour of the League of Nations, in the capacity of trustee, the government of the territory defined above.
At the end of fifteen years from the coming into force of the present Treaty the inhabitants of the said territory shall be called upon to indicate the sovereignty under which they desire to be placed.
Note to III, 49
The Council of the League of Nations on February 13, 1920 laid down the organization and duties of the Saar Basin Governing Commission, which for a period of 15 years conducted the governmental functions of a population of about 1,825,000 people occupying an area of 733.6 square miles. The commission acted as the cabinet of the [Page 167] Saar, distributing the ministries among its five members. During its regime, officials made a declaration of loyalty to the commission, representing the League of Nations.
Members of the commission were appointed annually from April 1. The chairman was originally a French member, who resigned under criticism in 1926; subsequent chairmen were Canadians or British. The four other members were a native inhabitant of the Saar and three nationals other than French or German. The commission issued monthly, and then quarterly, reports which were regularly published in the Official Journal of the League of Nations and constitute a detailed record of this trustee government. An Advisory Council consisting of 30 elected members was established by a decree of March 24, 1922 and was renewed by elections held in 1922, 1924, 1928, and 1932, each consultation of the people showing marked shifts of political party strength. Decrees of the Governing Commission were always submitted to but seldom approved by the Advisory Council. In a few instances, opposition of the Advisory Council resulted in the withdrawal of a decree.
See annex, chapter ii, page 173.
During the regime of the Governing Commission a miners’ strike in 1925 and the organization of the Saar Railways Defense Force in 1927 were the principal controversial incidents. After its admission to the League of Nations in September 1926 Germany complained that the French Government was maintaining an excessive military force in the Saar Basin. The question was debated at length before the Council of the League, which on March 12, 1927 adopted a resolution establishing the Saar Railway Committee and the Railway Defense Force, which replaced several French military formations with a single body of 800 men under their Belgian, British, and French officers. The military force was replaced by a gendarmerie in 1930.
The stipulations under which the cession of the mines in the Saar Basin shall be carried out, together with the measures intended to guarantee the rights and the well-being of the inhabitants and the government of the territory, as well as the conditions in accordance with which the plebiscite hereinbefore provided for is to be made, are laid down in the Annex hereto. This Annex shall be considered as an integral part of the present Treaty, and Germany declares her adherence to it.[Page 168]