Pierre Harmel, a sense of dialogue and respect for the opponent
Pierre Harmel, who is associated with all the major issues of the post-war period, made a significant and lasting impact on Belgian and international political life. He developed a real political project, not only for his country, but also for Europe and for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Although he was born in Brussels, on 16 March 1911, he spent a large part of his life in the fervent city of Liège. Doctor of Law, graduate in social sciences and notaryship from the University of Liège (1933), he was destined for a teaching career.
It was the death of his brother, a monk arrested by the Gestapo who died in a concentration camp a month before Liberation, that led him to politics in 1946.
The Christian Social Party deputy, who became Minister of Public Education in 1950, soon played an active role in all the major debates.
At the same time, Pierre Harmel saw the need to establish dialogue between Flemish- and French-speakers. The Harmel Centre, which he founded, submitted conclusions that laid the foundations for the federal system and drew the "linguistic border" in 1963, a virtual line cutting the country in two and guaranteeing the Flemish people respect for their language and territory.
Pierre Harmel became Prime Minister in 1965. But the coalition he led was divided and broke up a year later. He then became Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1966 to 1973, and notably developed what would become known as the "Harmel doctrine". In 1967, he advocated a strong 'West' in the face of the Warsaw Pact, but in dialogue with the USSR. He also called for Europe to take its fate into its own hands and for NATO to move from a military and defensive role to a political and cooperative one. The visit of German Chancellor Willy Brandt to Warsaw in 1970 and the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975 were believed to be the fruits of this doctrine.
Today, NATO is still adapting to the world around it through the NATO 2030 strategic exercise, based on the Harmel Report, among other things.
Pierre Harmel was also very involved in European integration. On 22 February 1973, he was appointed Minister of State and in March 1991 the King granted him the title of Count, for himself and his descendants, "for his outstanding service to the country". He died in Brussels on 15 November 2009 at the age of 98.
photo : © OTAN