It was in no small measure thanks to the
support and initiative of Emile Noël, that the European Union decided to
establish two Jean Monnet Chairs outside Europe, one in Canada and the other at
NYU School of Law.
The following are two excerpts from
obituaries in the London Independent and Times which were published upon the
death of Emile Noël in 1996.
grey eminence's grey eminence" was how one colleague described Emile Noël. If
Jean Monnet, the real founder of the European Union, worked behind the scenes
to achieve its objectives, Noël was one of several younger people who worked
behind and for Monnet. Of all Monnet's French associates, Emile Noël was one of
the most eminent.
been born in Constantinople, later to become Istanbul; and readers of Eric
Ambler's fiction might have fancied that he looked intriguingly exotic. His
dark eyes drooped at the corners like those of Paul McCartney or Sylvester
Stallone: his smile was rueful, almost hangdog, as if admitting that while
things might be worse they could be a great deal better. At times, he resembled
a melancholy Mr Punch.
Noël was a resolute idealist. As what Monnet called "an outstanding young
graduate" of the Ecole Normale Superieure, he had gone to work for the European
Movement, and had quickly been snapped up by the newborn Council of Europe in
1949. Initially Secretary of its General Affairs Committee, after three years
he had become Director of its Constitutional Committee, investigating the
possibility of forming a European Political Community.
he had become Chef de Cabinet to Guy Mollet, then the President of the Council
of Europe's Consultative Assembly and, when Mollet became Prime Minister of
France in 1956, Noël moved to Paris with him. It was while working with Mollet
that Noël first grew close to Jean Monnet, as what he later called "a sort of
liaison agent" between him and Mollet. His particular preoccupation was the Val
Duchesse negotiations to produce the Common Market and Euratom. When the
European Economic Community was set up in Brussels in 1958, Noël was appointed
Executive Secretary to its Commission. His official identity card was numbered
33, the previous 32 were those of the Commissioners and their personal
Noël thus found himself, aged 35, virtually in the driving seat of Europe's
powerful engine. The titular driver, as President of the Commission, was Walter
Hallstein, a workaholic bachelor, a former professor, and former Head of the
German Foreign Office. But Noël, married, with two daughters, and a product of
France's elite education system, was the perfect complement to Hallstein's
organizing zeal. He knew everyone; he knew everything; he said as little as
tenacity, as Monnet said, matched his modesty.
words of Commissioner Robert Lemaignen: It would have been hard to find a
person better fitted for his post. The Executive Secretary looks after the
inner workings of the Commission, prepares its discussion and its agenda, draws
up its minutes (he attends all meetings, even the most confidential); he puts
its decision into proper legal shape, distributes documentation to its
Commissioners and Directorates General, supervises such general services as the
linguistic service, and so on. Many of these jobs demand absolute discretion
and perfect tact. Noël fulfilled them perfectly.
1968, when the three Communities (Euratom, Coal and Steel and Common Market)
were merged into one, Emile Noël was appointed their Secretary General, a post
that he held until his retirement in 1987. But retirement did not mean leisure.
He at once became President of the European University Institute in Florence, a
post he held until 1996. In that period he produced several studies of the
Community and its institutions: Le Comite des Representants Permanents, in
1966, Les Rouages de ' Europe, in 1979, and Les Institutions des Communautes
Europeennes in 1988.
one regret, he said in later life, was that Europe had not established the
European Political Community on which he had worked in the 1950s. "The step
towards a more political union was brutally interrupted," he told an
interviewer in 1987. "But you can never really get the economic without the
political. I believe the political aspect is indispensable. A few less controls
at frontiers is simply not enough."
Noël died in Viareggio, Italy, 24 August 1996.
only to Jean Monnet, Emile Noël could claim to have been a founding father of
the European Union. Not that it was a claim he would ever have advanced
himself. Every inch the fonctionnaire, Noël had discretion built into his
impassive qualities were greatly valued in the Berlaymont Building -- not least
by the British when they first joined the Community in 1973. He was the master
of the flexible minute in which subjunctives surfaced in nearly every sentence.
Whether for that reason or not, it was often he who came up with the formula
that solved difficulties. (His English never ceased to be a source of wonder to
his UK colleagues -- though he appeared to speak it in a very broken form, he
in fact had a remarkable grasp on all the language's subtleties and nuances.)
Although by nature and even appearance Gallic to the core, he perhaps
succeeded better than any other member of the Commission's staff in being a
true European. He was the product, of course, of a generation that had seen two
successive wars break out on the continent of Europe, and one of the very few
things he had difficulty in understanding about the British was their
reluctance to accept that the age of the unbridled nation state was over and
Probably the recognition of the European ethos in which he took the
greatest pride was the achievement -- much of it was due to his own delicate
diplomacy -- in getting the President of the Commission to be present
(ultimately as of right) at all Heads of Government summits.