Great European of the Week: Paul-Henri Spaak

A great European for decades, Paul-Henri Spaak strongly believed in the integration of Europe and used the power of his “method” to support the European project. By Alessandra Croppi

Paul-Henri Spaak

Paul-Henri Spaak was a great European: he strongly believed in the integration of Europe and thus the European project. Born on 25 January 1899 in Schaerbeek, Belgium, he was the son of the first woman elected in the Belgian senate. Still a minor, he managed to join the army during the First World War by lying about his age, but was captured by the Germans and became a prisoner in a war camp. After the War, he studied law at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). During his law career, he became famous for defending many Communists accused of conspiracy against the Kingdom of Belgium.

In the 1920s, he started to be an important political actor in Belgium. Spaak became member of the Socialist Party in 1920 and his political career grew surprisingly fast; already elected as a Member of Parliament in 1932, he later was part of the cabinet of Paul Van Zeeland and appointed firstly Minister of Transport in 1935 and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1936. The peak of his national political career was in 1938, when he was elected Prime Minister.

During the Second World War, he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government-in-exile in London. Spaak returned to Brussels in 1944, and in 1945 he was elected Chairman of the first session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. In 1952, he became Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and in 1956 he joined NATO as Secretary-General.

As one of Europe’s founding fathers, Paul-Henri Spaak also played an important role as promoter of European integration. After the war, Europe was weak and unprotected and Spaak promoted the message that it was better to be unified and grow together, rather than fight against each other. He aimed to create a merged Europe, and therefore started an integration project through economic and political cooperation. The Benelux was the first landmark; Spaak worked with the Netherlands and Luxembourg in order to create a free space for the circulation of goods, people, money and services within these three countries.

During the Messina Conference in 1955, Spaak and the Benelux promoted and emphasized the importance of having an integrated Europe through a common market, an integrated transport system and a common atomic energy plan. This came to pass in 1958 with the establishment of the European Economic Community, for which Spaak signed the Treaty of Rome on behalf of Belgium.

His method is another uniqueness that made him a Great European. The “Spaak method” is a concept of negotiation and persuasion that was peculiar to him: he used this method in the preparation meetings of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom in 1956 at Val Duchesse castle in preparation for the Treaties of Rome.

Most of the negotiations took place before the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) within the Spaak Committee that was in charge of setting the agenda for the IGC. Therefore, the final report of the Committee was used as a basis for the Treaty. The negotiating method had a strong and persuasive role during the Committee. He structured the teams and committees, set the rhythms and pace for reaching a positive report. He managed to give positive recommendation to all participants and then counsel a draft of the treaty, to be presented during the Conference. Spaak intended to lead a constructive Committee; hence he supposed that, in order to achieve a multilateral economic integration, there was the need of a coherent argument that could be acceptable for all members.

Spaak decided to create persuasive documents on the feasibility of the integration. Jacques Delors also applied the Spaak method during his Committee for Economic and Monetary Union.

In an interview with the magazine LIFE (December 1957), Spaak was asked to talk about his negotiation method and, unexpectedly, he declared that he had no method, “but I will tell you the qualities of a successful diplomat. They are Understanding (he must be able to see several points of view), Compromise (he cannot be dogmatic), Loyalty (to his colleagues, to his promises and to his ideas) and Discretion (he must be able to keep confidence and work quietly)”.

Paul-Henri Spaak, a founding father of the European Union, retired from politics in 1966 and died in Brussels on 31 July 1972. To honor his work and dedication to Europe, the first building of the European Parliament was named after him.

The Europe of tomorrow must be a supranational Europe.

Image: ‘Bundesarchiv Bild 183-39998-0427, Paul-Henri Spaak

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