Did you know that many Belgians have made a contribution to European history?
Europe celebrated its 60th birthday on 25 March 2017. It is the perfect opportunity to put the Belgians who have played a part in shaping European unity in the spotlight. Several of these Belgians stand out in particular. We will present ten of them for you.
First in the list is Paul-Henri Spaak, also known as the father of Europe. He was the very first President of the United Nations General Assembly, and was one of the founders of the customs union between Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Italy. This led to the Treaty of Rome. In the 1950s and 60s, the Walloon federalist Fernand Dehousse was a member of the Assembly of the European Communities for almost 19 years. He advocated for international law to take precedence over national law. Elsewhere, Jean Rey was the first Belgian member of the Commission of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958, and to date is the only Belgian to have been President of the European Commission. Etienne Davignon was a European Commissioner from 1977 until 1981, and was Vice Chairman of the Commission from 1981 until 1985. He advocated for a single European voice in international issues. In 1979, the year in which members of the European Parliament could be directly elected for the first time, Karel Van Miert was also elected. In 1989, he was European Commissioner responsible for Transport, Consumer Policy, Credit and Investment. At one point he was said to be one of the most powerful men in Europe. At the time he was Commissioner for Competition Policy.
Wilfried Martens also played an important role in European history. Already at the beginning of his political career, Wilfried Martens was a founding member of the European People's Party (EPP), before he became Belgian Prime Minister. Between 1994 and 1999, he was the group chairman of the party in the European Parliament. Marianne Thyssen, who is still currently active, made her debut in 1991 as a member of the European Parliament. She became a European Commissioner in 2014, and consequently the first female Belgian European Commissioner. Three other milestones in Belgian European history are the achievements of Jean-Luc Dehaene, Guy Verhofstadt and Herman Van Rompuy. Jean-Luc Dehaene was a member of the European Parliament until his death in 2014. Among other things, he ensured that the Maastricht criteria were achieved, and that the euro could be introduced. Guy Verhofstadt presided over the European Council in 2001, and he is still active in his career. Finally, in 2009, it was decided that none other than Belgium's own Herman Van Rompuy would be appointed as the first full-time President of the European Council. He was president for five years.
- Paul-Henri Spaak: © EC - Audiovisual Service / Karel van Milleghem
- Fernand Dehousse: © Wikipedia
- Jean Rey: © EC - Audiovisual Service
- Etienne Davignon: © EC - Audiovisual Service
- Karel Van Miert: © EC - Audiovisual Service / Jean-Pierre van der Elst
- Wilfried Martens: © EC - Audiovisual Service / Christian Lambiotte
- Marianne Thyssen: © EC - Audiovisual Service / Lieven Creemers
- Jean-Luc Dehaene: © EC - Audiovisual Service / Catherine Juckler
- Guy Verhofstadt: © EC - Audiovisual Service / Frederic Sierakowski
- Herman Van Rompuy: © Shutterstock