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The Founding Fathers of the EU

The following visionary leaders inspired the creation of the European Union we live in today. Without their energy and motivation we would not be living in the sphere of peace and stability that we take for granted. From resistance fighters to lawyers, the founding fathers were a diverse group of people who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe. Beyond the founding fathers described below, many others have worked tirelessly towards and inspired the European project. This section on the founding fathers is therefore a work in progress.

Konrad Adenauer: a pragmatic democrat and tireless unifier

The first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, who stood at the head of the newly-formed state from 1949-63, changed the face of post-war German and European history more than any other individual.

A cornerstone of Adenauer's foreign policy was reconciliation with France. Together with French President Charles de Gaulle a historic turning point was achieved: in 1963 the one-time arch-enemies Germany and France signed a treaty of friendship, which became one of the milestones on the road to European integration.

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Konrad Adenauer, speaking on 2 July 1966 in Metz

If we succeed in creating an organisation that allows the French to see everything that goes on in steel manufacturing and coal mining in Germany – and if, in turn, the Germans can see what's happening in these fields in France – then this system of mutual control is the ideal way to pursue a policy based on trust.


Konrad Adenauer spricht am 2. Juli 1966 in Metz

Wenn es uns gelingt, eine Organisation zu schaffen, die den Franzosen gestattet, alles das zu sehen, was auf dem Gebiete der Fabrikation von Stahl und der Förderung von Kohle in Deutschland vor sich geht und, wenn umgekehrt, die Deutschen sehen, was in Frankreich vor sich geht, dann ist diese gegenseitige Kontrolle das beste Mittel, um eine Politik zu treiben, die sich auf Vertrauen gründet.

Joseph Bech: how a small country can play a crucial role in European integration

Joseph Bech was the Luxembourgish politician that helped set up the European Coal and Steel Community in the early 1950s and a leading architect behind European integration in the later 1950s.

It was a joint memorandum from the Benelux countries that led to the convening of the Messina Conference in June 1955, paving the way for the European Economic Community.

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Joseph Bech, speaking in Strasbourg in 1968

Why did we really launch the European project after the Second World War? Because we thought it imperative to build a new Europe, one in which France and Germany could be reconciled.

And we find that at least in this area – which was a key area, since peace in Europe depends on it – we created the idea of a united Europe, the embodiment of the struggle for a united Europe.


Joseph Bech parle en 1968 à Strasbourg

Pourquoi est-ce qu’en réalité nous avons voulu faire l’Europe au lendemain de la Seconde Guerre mondiale ? Nous pensions qu’il fallait absolument créer une Europe nouvelle afin de permettre, dans ce cadre nouveau, de réconcilier la France et l’Allemagne.

Et constatons que tout au moins dans ce domaine qui était un domaine essentiel, puisque c’est la paix en Europe qui en dépend, nous avons fait l’idée européenne ou l’un des motifs, l’un des objectifs de la lutte pour l’Europe unie a été atteint.

Johan Willem Beyen: a plan for a common market

The international banker, businessman and politician Johan Willem Beyen was a Dutch politician who, with his 'Beyen Plan', breathed new life into the process of European integration in the mid-1950s.

Beyen is one of the lesser-known members of the group of Founding Fathers of the EU. Amongst the people who knew him he was admired for his charm, international orientation and social ease.

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Winston Churchill: calling for a United States of Europe

Winston Churchill, a former army officer, war reporter and British Prime Minister (1940-45 and 1951-55), was one of the first to call for the creation of a 'United States of Europe'. Following the Second World War, he was convinced that only a united Europe could guarantee peace. His aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all.

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Winston Churchill speaking on 19 September 1946 in Zurich

…we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the union we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can.

Alcide De Gasperi: an inspired mediator for democracy and freedom in Europe

From 1945 to 1953, in his roles as Italian Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Alcide De Gasperi forged the path of the country’s destiny in the post-war years.

Time and time again he promoted initiatives aimed at the fusion of Western Europe, working on the realisation of the Marshall Plan and creating close economic ties with other European countries, in particular France.

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Alcide De Gasperi, speaking on 12 January 1951 in Strasbourg

If we do no more than create common administrations – without going as far as creating a higher, central authority that embodies, crystallises and nurtures national political authority, shaping it into a higher form – then the risk is that European institutions will seem bereft of warmth or higher ideals, when set aside the vitalities of nation states. They might even come to be perceived as an oppressive and needless straitjacket, like their precursors in the Holy Roman Empire during its decline.


Alcide De Gasperi parle le 12 janvier 1951 à Strasbourg

Si nous ne bâtissons que des administrations communes sans qu'il y ait une volonté politique supérieure vérifiée par un organisme central, dans lesquels les volontés nationales se rencontrent, se précisent et se réchauffent dans une synthèse supérieure, nous risquons que cette activité européenne, comparée aux vitalités nationales particulières, paraisse sans chaleur, sans vie idéale. Il pourrait même apparaître à certain moment un harnachement superflu et peut être oppressif, tel que le Saint-Empire Romain apparu à certaine période de son déclin.

Walter Hallstein: a diplomatic force propelling swift European integration

Walter Hallstein was the first President of the European Commission from 1958 to 1967, a committed European and a decisive proponent of European integration.

As President of the European Commission, Hallstein worked towards a rapid realisation of the Common Market. His energetic enthusiasm and powers of persuasion furthered the cause of integration even beyond the period of his presidency. During his mandate, the integration advanced significantly.

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Walter Hallstein speaking on 2 March 1953 in Strasbourg

What propels us is known well enough – there is an indestructible sense of European identity. Only with a strong, united Europe can Europeans – and the world – really thrive.

A splintered Europe will become the Balkans of the world, a standing invitation to others to interfere in our affairs. If we are to be heard, we must speak with one voice. And to that end, we would be best advised not to over-dramatise the occasional focus on individual balancing measures, or accumulations of them.


Walter Hallstein spricht am 2. März 1953 in Straßburg

Was uns vorwärts treibt, ist zur Genüge bekannt: Es gibt ein unzerstörbares europäisches Selbstgefühl. Nur mit einem starken, einigen Europa können die Europäer - und kann die Welt - wirklich gedeihen. Ein zersplittertes Europa wird zum Balkan der Welt werden und zur ständigen Einladung an andere, sich in seine Angelegenheiten einzumischen. Es muss mit einer Stimme sprechen, um gehört zu werden. Nichts ist darum unangebrachter, als die von Zeit zu Zeit eintretende Konzentration auf einzelne Ausgleichsvorgänge oder ihre gelegentliche Kumulierung zu dramatisieren.

Sicco Mansholt: farmer, resistance fighter and a true European

Sicco Mansholt was a farmer, a member of the Dutch resistance during the Second World War, a national politician and the first European Commissioner responsible for Agriculture. Mansholt's ideas laid the basis for the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, one of the most prominent policies since its founding days.

Having witnessed the horrors of the Dutch famine at the end of the Second World War, Mansholt was convinced that Europe needed to become self-sufficient and that a stable supply of affordable food should be guaranteed for all.

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Sicco Mansholt – 10 December 1968, Brussels

The Commission has just explained to the Council of Ministers its views on what needs to happen in Europe's agricultural sector over the next 10 years.

It informed the Council that first a memorandum will be submitted regarding how agriculture is structured, in the broadest sense of the term.

The measures involved are so far-reaching, not just financially but also structurally, that the Commission feels a memorandum is appropriate.


Sicco Mansholt in gesprek op 10 december 1968 in Brussel

De Commissie heeft dus zojuist aan de ministerraad een uiteenzetting gegeven van wat zij meent dat in de komende 10 jaar moet gebeuren in de Europese landbouw.

Zij heeft dus meegedeeld dat er in de 1ste plaats een memorandum zal worden overgelegd ten aanzien van de agrarische structuur in de ruimste zin van het woord.

Het zijn zulke ingrijpende maatregelen, niet alleen financieel diep ingrijpend maar ook structureel diep ingrijpend, dat zij meent dat de vorm van een memorandum de juiste is.

Jean Monnet: the unifying force behind the birth of the European Union

The French political and economic adviser Jean Monnet dedicated himself to the cause of European integration. He was the inspiration behind the 'Schuman Plan', which foresaw the merger of west European heavy industry.

Monnet was from the Cognac region of France. When he left school at 16 he travelled internationally as a cognac dealer, later also as a banker. During both world wars he held high-level positions relating to the coordination of industrial production in France and the United Kingdom.

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Jean Monnet, speaking in Strasbourg in 1951

The decisions by this first European body – the High Authority – are implemented in our 6 countries as if they were one. This is one of the critical changes made under this venture, and at the same time, a test of its success.

This first common market, the first supranational institutions – Europe is beginning to unite!


Jean Monnet parle en 1951 à Strasbourg

Les décisions de ce premier exécutif européen qu’est la Haute Autorité, sont exécutées dans nos six pays comme s'ils n’en faisaient qu'un. C'est là une des transformations essentielles que réalise notre entreprise et le test de sa réussite.

Ce premier marché commun, ces premières institutions supranationales, c'est l'Europe qui commence à s'unir.

Robert Schuman: the architect of the European integration project

The statesman Robert Schuman, a qualified lawyer and French foreign minister between 1948 and 1952, is regarded as one of the founding fathers of European unity.

In cooperation with Jean Monnet he drew up the internationally renowned Schuman Plan, which he published on 9 May 1950, the date now regarded as the birth of the European Union. He proposed joint control of coal and steel production, the most important materials for the armaments industry. The basic idea was that whoever did not have control over coal and steel production would not be able to fight a war.

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Robert Schuman makes his declaration on 9 May 1950 in Paris

In championing the cause of a united Europe for over 20 years, France's main goal has always been to secure peace.

Europe did not unite – and so we had war. And now European integration will not happen overnight, nor in a single guise. It will be built through concrete achievements, that first create solidarity on the ground. To this end, the French government intends to place the entire Franco-German production of coal and steel under a common High Authority.


Robert Schuman donne sa déclaration le 9 mai 1950 à Paris

En se faisant depuis plus de 20 ans le champion d'une Europe unie, la France a toujours eu pour objet essentiel de servir la paix.

L'Europe n'a pas été faite, nous avons eu la guerre. L'Europe ne se fera pas d'un coup, ni dans une construction d'ensemble. Elle se fera par des réalisations concrètes, créant d'abord une solidarité de fait. Le gouvernement français propose de placer l'ensemble de la production franco-allemande de charbon et d'acier sous une haute autorité commune.

Paul-Henri Spaak: a European visionary and talented persuader

'A European statesman' – Belgian Paul-Henri Spaak's long political career fully merits this title.

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.

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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!


Paul-Henri Spaak parle le 11 décembre 1951 à Paris

…alors que certains sont à peine touchés par l'intérêt et l'utilité de notre besogne, pour un certain nombre d'entre nous ce que nous aurions à faire ici c'est une chose vitale et d'une urgente nécessité.

J'admire ceux qui peuvent rester calme dans l'état actuel de l'Europe. On pourrait être terriblement cruel si nous n'étions pas forcé d'être aussi parlementaire.., mais tout de même retournez-vous un peu sur les années qui viennent de s'écouler!

Altiero Spinelli: an unrelenting federalist

The Italian politician Altiero Spinelli was one of the fathers of the European Union. He was the leading figure behind the European Parliament's proposal for a Treaty on a federal European Union - the so-called 'Spinelli Plan'. This was adopted in 1984 by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament and provided an important inspiration for the strengthening of the EU Treaties in the 1980s and '90s.

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Altiero Spinelli speaking on 8 July 1981 in Strasbourg

Above all, we must keep on increasing Parliament's level of overall involvement. That is why we are calling for a new parliamentary committee that, whatever its title, would focus exclusively on this issue. In due course, it would produce interim reports, urging Parliament to choose between the various options put forward and to build as broad a consensus as possible through open debate. The aim would be to have a reform project adopted, with everyone fully aware of the significance and implications.


Altiero Spinelli parlando l’8 luglio 1981 a Strasburgo

Dovremo in primo luogo impegnare sempre più e sempre più fortemente il Parlamento tutto intero. È per questo che chiediamo la costituzione di una nuova commissione parlamentare che, comunque essa si chiami, si occupi solo di questo tema e che man mano presenti rapporti interinali al Parlamento per chiamarlo a decidere fra le varie opzioni che si presenteranno ed a formare attraverso larghi dibattiti di consensi più ampi possibili, fino a giungere al voto finale del progetto di riforma, nella piena consapevolezza da parte di tutti di ciò che significa e implica.

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