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 and parliamentarians, the EU pioneers were a diverse group of people who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.
Beyond the pioneers described below, many others have worked tirelessly towards and inspired the European project. This section on the EU’s pioneers is therefore a work in progress.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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.
politician and educator
The European Parliament’s second female President was a persuasive politician and devoted champion of Europe who oversaw the adoption of the euro. Nicole Fontaine, who was President from 1999-2002, set about reforming the European Parliament’s working methods to bring it closer to European citizens.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
anti-fascist and founding European federalist 1913 - 1991
Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Berlin, in 1932 Ursula Hirschmann joined the youth organisation of the Social Democratic Party in resistance to the advance of the Nazis. After meeting and then marrying Eugenio Colorni, a young Italian philosopher and socialist, while in exile in Paris during the mid-1930s, Hirschmann became active in the clandestine anti-fascist opposition in his native Italy.
When Colorni was arrested and imprisoned on the island of Ventotene, she followed her husband there. There they met Ernesto Rossi and Altiero Spinelli, who, in 1941, co-authored the Ventotene Manifesto ‘for a free and united Europe’, widely regarded as the starting point for European federalism.
Advocate of universal suffrage and founding mother of the Italian Republic
Leonilde 'Nilde' Iotti was a resistance fighter during the Second World War, and became one of post-war Italy's most important female politicians. Considered by many as a founding mother of the Italian Republic and perhaps ‘the best president Italy never had’, Iotti was a member of the committee that drafted the core of the country's new constitution in 1946. Two years later, she joined the Chamber of Deputies, eventually becoming its longest serving president.
Scientist, politician and champion of the underprivileged (1912-1986)
Marga Klompé was a scientist and teacher who was active in the Dutch resistance during the Second World War. She became a member of the Dutch Parliament in 1948 and was one of the negotiators of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
In 1952 Klompé became the first female member of the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Parliament. There she contributed to the work that led to the Treaties of Rome. In 1956 she become the Netherlands’ first female government minister and one of her achievements was the country’s first law on universal social protection.
Sweden’s pro-Europe voice on the world stage (1957 – 2003)
Active in politics from a young age, Ylva Anna Maria Lindh was one of the most influential figures in modern Swedish politics.
Born in 1957, Lindh studied law at Uppsala University before winning a seat in parliament in 1982. Her first cabinet post came 12 years later as minister for the environment. She later achieved international recognition as Sweden’s outspoken and committed foreign minister.
Staunchly pro-Europe, Lindh rose to wider prominence during Sweden’s presidency of the European Union in 2001 when her diplomacy help to avert war in the then former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. She led the Swedish government’s ‘Yes’ campaign in the referendum to join the euro in 2003, but was murdered just days before the vote took place.
leaders in reconciliation
Helmut Kohl was the second of only three people to have received an Honorary Citizenship of Europe from the European Council, in recognition of his extraordinary work on European integration and cooperation, such was his contribution to the European project.
While President, Mitterrand supported European enlargement by encouraging Spain and Portugal’s accession to the EU. He also believed in a more integrated EU and championed the passing of the Single European Act in 1986, which laid the first legal foundations for a European single market. Together, Kohl and Mitterrand completed this goal with the passing of the Maastricht Treaty six years later, making their dream of a seamless transnational market a reality.
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.
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.
actor, politician and champion of culture
The Greek actor and politician Melina Mercouri brought a fire and passion to everything she did; from gracing stage and screen in the early part of her life, to fighting the fascist junta that took control of Greece in 1967 and campaigning for the protection and promotion of culture as a politician.
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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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
... 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!
…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!
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 ParlNicole Fontaineiament and provided an important inspiration for the strengthening of the EU Treaties in the 1980s and '90s.
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.
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.
Holocaust survivor and first female President of the European Parliament
Lawyer, politician and feminist, Simone Veil served as France’s Health Minister between 1974 and 1979. In that year she became a Member of the European Parliament and was elected its President, remaining in the role until 1982. This made her the President of the first directly elected Parliament and the first female President.
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lifelong champion of European values and women's rights
The journalist and politician Louise Weiss was an influential voice in French and international affairs from the 1920s until her death in 1983. Her experiences working in field hospitals during the First World War profoundly affected her. She dedicated her life to the pursuit of peace, first through her work on several newspapers and then in her dedication to the cause of female suffrage; her belief being that giving women the vote would help prevent the looming threat of a Second World War. During that war, she helped save thousands of Jewish children from the Nazis and joined the French Resistance. Post-war, she promoted the idea of Europe as a counterpoint to the superpowers during the Cold War. She was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 at the age of 86, and made the inaugural speech at its opening session. After her death, the European Parliament named its main building in Strasbourg after her in recognition of her lifelong support of European values.