In November the Central Library attended the presentation of the book National Leaders and the Making of Europe: Key episodes in the life of the European Council at the European Political Centre. The conference room was almost full, and among the participants we could count many current and former members of staff of the Council Secretariat. In fact, this was quite understandable. Three privileged witnesses, and contributors to this book, were present and shared their insights: former Secretary-General of the Council Pierre de Boissieu, former Danish Ambassador to the EU Poul Skytte Christoffersen and the first President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy.
Written by high-level insiders, the book covers a good part of evolution of the European Council over last 40 years. Since its creation in 1974, the European Council has evolved from an informal meeting of presidents and prime ministers to become a full EU institution in its own right. As Herman Van Rompuy says in the foreword, ‘National Leaders and the Making of Europe is an important book. Written by insiders who also have the bigger picture in mind, it brings selected political moments in Europe’s tumultuous history back to life.’
During the presentation, Poul Skytte Christoffersen recalled his first meeting, the Copenhagen Summit in 1973, chaired by Denmark – which had just acceded to the European Community – describing its as a slightly chaotic and improvised gathering. It was during this meeting that the then nine leaders decided to meet more often. He also elaborated on the role of the General Secretariat of the Council in the preparation of the European Council meetings, and we learned that the Council Secretariat’s active role as facilitator of dialogue began only in 1981 (London European Council, Lancaster House), since during the first few years the practice was for the European Council meetings to be prepared by national officials.
Pierre de Boissieu, who was a young civil servant during the birth of the European Council in Paris in 1974, gave an interesting and lively overview of the evolution of the European Council over the years. All three contributors agreed on the fact that the European Council was a ‘club’ of heads of state and government. However, Herman Van Rompuy further pointed out that this ‘club’ was ‘not a homogeneous group’ since it is made up of representatives of small member states, big member states, North, South, East, West, EPP, S&D, member states which belong to the Eurozone, member states which are part of Schengen etc., and that from his experience ‘the role of the President of the European Council is to keep the club together’.
If you are interested in finding out more, National Leaders and the Making of Europe is now available for loan at the Central Library.