Imprisoned by the Germans during the First World War and serving as Belgian foreign minister-in-exile during the Second, Paul-Henri Spaak was another of the great EU pioneers to witness the horrors of Europe’s bloodiest century. Although most of Europe was in ruins after the Second World War, Spaak saw an opportunity to make it a strong and peaceful continent again through economic and political cooperation.
Life and times
While in exile in London during the war, he formulated plans with his colleagues from the Netherlands and Luxembourg on a new and highly ambitious project: a customs union between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
In 1944, the plan came to fruition and the Benelux was born. Within the borders of the three countries, free movement of money, people, services and goods would be guaranteed. It would serve as an inspiration for further European integration.
A vision for Europe
For Spaak, uniting countries through binding treaty obligations was the most effective means of guaranteeing peace and stability. He helped achieve these aims as president of the first full meeting of the United Nations (1946) and as Secretary General of NATO (1957-61). Spaak was a leading figure in formulating the content of the Treaty of Rome. At the Messina Conference in 1955, the six participating governments appointed him president of the working committee that prepared the Treaty.
Paul-Henri Spaak, speaking in Strasbourg on 11 December 1951
Paul-Henri Spaak, speaking in Strasbourg on 11 December 1951 in Paris
... some may be barely aware of the relevance and usefulness of this venture – but for a number of us, the task before us is of the utmost import and urgency.
I admire those who can stay calm, given the present state of Europe. The temptation is there to be terribly unforgiving, if our hand were not stayed so much by the parliamentary process ... but then look at the period we've just lived through!
More about Paul-Henri Spaak’s life, work and contribution to the European project