Chapter III.—Plebiscite (34 to 40)
Note to III, 50, Annex (34–40)
The plebiscite held on January 13, 1935 was for voters with an unusual qualification. Only those were eligible who had been resident in the territory on June 28, 1919 and were more than 20 years old on January 13, 1935. The Governing Commission established voting lists as one of its first tasks. They were completed in September 1922 by a Provisional Records Commission appointed by the Council of the League and were retained in the League’s custody until the Plebiscite Commission appointed by the Council took charge on July 1, 1934.
The task of the Plebiscite Commission was facilitated by comprehensive regulations adopted by the Council on June 2, 1934 for the conduct of the voting. These included pledges from both France and Germany to abstain from pressure of any kind during the campaign. Eight district plebiscite tribunals were set up and a supreme plebiscite court established. Organizations of foreign officials selected by the Plebiscite Commission were created for the 83 voting districts, and a special gendarmerie was established and was supplemented after December 22, 1934 by an international force of 3300 men commanded by a British major general under the authority of the Governing Commission. The troops in this force consisted of: Netherlands 250, United Kingdom 1500, Italy 1300, Sweden 250.
The National Socialist Party had come to power in Germany in January 1933, and there was considerable uncertainty as to what action it might take with respect to the orderly procedure of a plebiscite. Its nationalistic bias was expressed through the campaign activities of two groups known as the “Deutsche-Front” and “Einheitsfront”. It was largely due to complaints from these groups that the Plebiscite Commission was called upon to rule on 107,145 claims for correction of the voting lists.
The voting took place on Sunday, January 13, 1935, the ballots being counted on Monday and the result broadcast Tuesday. The final register showed 539,541 eligibles, and 528,705 votes were cast, with 905 invalid and 1292 blank papers. The result was: for union with Germany, 477,119; for the present regime, 46,613; for union with France, 2,124.[Page 180]
The overwhelming majority for territorial union with Germany simplified the transfer of the Saar to German administration.
The agreement between France and Germany, made as a result of the plebiscite, relative to the retrocession of the property right of the French state in the mines, railroads, and other fixed assets in the Saar territory was signed at Naples February 18, 1935 and effected their transfer to Germany at midnight March 1, 1935 (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1935, ii, 135).
At the termination of a period of fifteen years from the coming into force of the present Treaty, the population of the territory of the Saar Basin will be called upon to indicate their desires in the following manner:
A vote will take place by communes or districts, on the three following alternatives: (a) maintenance of the régime established by the present Treaty and by this Annex; (b) union with France; (c) union with Germany.
All persons without distinction of sex, more than twenty years old at the date of the voting, resident in the territory at the date of the signature of the present Treaty, will have the right to vote.
The other conditions, methods and the date of the voting shall be fixed by the Council of the League of Nations in such a way as to secure the freedom, secrecy and trustworthiness of the voting.
Text of May 7:
The other conditions, methods and the date of the voting shall be fixed by the Council of the League of Nations in such a way as to secure the liberty, secrecy and trustworthiness of the voting.
The League of Nations shall decide on the sovereignty under which the territory is to be placed, taking into account the wishes of the inhabitants as expressed by the voting:
(a) If, for the whole or part of the territory, the League of Nations decides in favour of the maintenance of the régime established by the present Treaty and this Annex, Germany hereby agrees to make such renunciation of her sovereignty in favour of the League of Nations as the latter shall deem necessary. It will be the duty of the League of Nations to take appropriate steps to [Page 181] adapt the régime definitively adopted to the permanent welfare of the territory and the general interest;
Text of May 7:
It will be the duty of the League of Nations to take appropriate steps to adapt the régime definitely adopted to the permanent welfare of the territory and the general interests.
(b) If, for the whole or part of the territory, the League of Nations decides in favour of union with France, Germany hereby agrees to cede to France in accordance with the decision of the League of Nations all rights and title over the territory specified by the League;
(c) If, for the whole or part of the territory, the League of Nations decides in favour of union with Germany, it will be the duty of the League of Nations to cause the German Government to be re-established in the government of the territory specified by the League.
If the League of Nations decides in favour of the union of the whole or part of the territory of the Saar Basin with Germany, France’s rights of ownership in the mines situated in such part of the territory will be repurchased by Germany in their entirety at a price payable in gold. The price to be paid will be fixed by three experts, one nominated by Germany, one by France, and one, who shall be neither a Frenchman nor a German, by the Council of the League of Nations; the decision of the experts will be given by a majority.
The obligation of Germany to make such payment shall be taken into account by the Reparation Commission, and for the purpose of this payment Germany may create a prior charge upon her assets or revenues upon such detailed terms as shall be agreed to by the Reparation Commission.
Text of May 7:
If, within the six months following the decision of the experts, the price above referred to has not been paid by Germany, the said territory will be finally acquired by France.
If, nevertheless, Germany after a period of one year from the date on which the payment becomes due 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, [Page 182] and, if necessary, by liquidating that part of the mines which is in question.
If, in consequence of the repurchase provided for in paragraph 36, the ownership of the mines or any part of them is transferred to Germany, the French State and French nationals shall have the right to purchase such amount of coal of the Saar Basin as their industrial and domestic needs are found at that time to require. An equitable arrangement regarding amounts of coal, duration of contract, and prices will be fixed in due time by the Council of the League of Nations.
It is understood that France and Germany may, by special agreements concluded before the time fixed for the payment of the price for the repurchase of the mines, modify the provisions of paragraphs 36 and 37.
The Council of the League of Nations shall make such provisions as may be necessary for the establishment of the régime which is to take effect after the decisions of the League of Nations mentioned in paragraph 35 have become operative, including an equitable apportionment of any obligations of the Government of the territory of the Saar Basin arising from loans raised by the Commission or from other causes.
From the coming into force of the new régime, the powers of the Governing Commission will terminate, except in the case provided for in paragraph 35 (a).
In all matters dealt with in the present Annex, the decisions of the Council of the League of Nations will be taken by a majority.