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Spaak

Spaak

[spahk; Fr. spak]
Spaak, Paul Henri, 1899-1972, Belgian statesman and Socialist leader. He held various cabinet posts after 1935 and served almost continually as foreign minister from 1938 to 1949. A moderate Socialist, Spaak was three times premier (1938-39, 1946, 1947-49) in coalition governments. He was an opponent of the return of King Leopold III to Belgium. He was again foreign minister from 1954 to 1957, and he resumed that post from 1961 to 1966, serving also as vice premier (1961-65). Spaak acquired international stature as first president of the General Assembly of the United Nations (1946), chairman of the Council for European Recovery (1948-49), and secretary-general of NATO (1957-61). In both national and international posts Spaak strove for the political and economic unification of Western Europe, and he was active in the creation of the organizations that have since become the European Union.

Paul Henri Charles Spaak (25 January 1899 - 31 July 1972) was a Belgian Socialist politician and statesman.

Early life

He was born in Schaerbeek to Paul Spaak and Marie Janson. His mother - the daughter of Paul Janson and sister to Paul-Émile Janson, both Liberal politicians - was the country's first female Senator.

During World War I, Spaak lied about his age to be accepted in the Army; he subsequently spent two years as a German prisoner of war.

Spaak studied law at the Free University of Brussels (now split into the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel).

Belgian politics

He became a member of the Socialist Belgian Labour Party in 1920. He was elected deputy in 1932.

In 1935 he entered the cabinet of Paul Van Zeeland as Minister of Transport. In February 1936 he became Minister of Foreign Affairs, serving first under Zeeland and then under his uncle, Paul-Émile Janson. From May 1938 to February 1939 he was Prime Minister for the first time.

He was Foreign Minister again from September 1939 until August 1949 under the subsequent Prime Ministers Hubert Pierlot, Achille Van Acker and Camille Huysmans. During this time he twice was appointed Prime Minister as well, first from 13 to 31 March 1946 - the shortest government in Belgian history, and again from March 1947 to August 1949.

He again was foreign minister from April 1954 to June 1958 in the cabinet of Achille Van Acker and from April 1961 to March 1966 in the cabinets of Théo Lefèvre and Pierre Harmel.

Spaak was an advocate of Belgium's "independence policy" before World War II. During the German invasion in May 1940, he fled to France and tried to return during the summer but was prevented by the Germans, even he was Foreign Minister as the time. Hence, against his wishes he settleed in Britain.

UN

Spaak gained international prominence in 1945, when he was elected chairman of the first session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. During the third session of the UN General Assembly in Paris, Spaak apostrophized the delegation of the Soviet Union with the famous words: "Messieurs, nous avons peur de vous" (Sirs, we are afraid of you).

Europe

Spaak became a staunch supporter of regional co-operation and collective security after 1944. While still in exile in London, he promoted the creation of a customs union uniting Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg (see Benelux). In August 1946, he was elected chairman of the first session of the consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe. From 1952 to 1953, he presided the General Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community.

In 1955, the Messina Conference of European leaders appointed him as chairman of a preparatory committee (Spaak Committee) charged with the preparation of a report on the creation of a common European market. The so-called "…Spaak Report" formed the cornerstone of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom at Val Duchesse in 1956 and led to the signature, on 25 March 1957, of the Treaties of Rome establishing a European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Paul-Henri Spaak signed the treaty for Belgium, together with Jean Charles Snoy et d'Oppuers. His role in the creation of the EEC earned Spaak a place among the Founding fathers of the European Union.

NATO

In 1956, he was chosen by the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to succeed Lord Ismay as Secretary General. He held this office from 1957 until 1961, when he was succeeded by Dirk Stikker. Spaak was also instrumental in the choice of Brussels as the new seat of the Alliance's HQ in 1966.

This was also the year of his last European campaign, when he played an important conciliatory role in resolving the "empty chair crisis" by helping to bring France back into the European fold. In 1957 he received the Karlspreis (engl.: Charlemagne Award) an Award by the German city of Aachen to people who contributed to the European idea and European peace.

Retirement

Paul-Henri Spaak retired from politics in 1966. He was member of the Royal Belgian Academy of French Language and Literature. In 1969, he published his memoirs in two volumes titled Combats inachevés ("The Continuing Battle"). Spaak died aged 73, on 31 July 1972 in his home in Braine-l'Alleud near Brussels, and was buried at the Foriest graveyard in Braine-l'Alleud.

Family

He and his wife Marguerite Malevez had two daughters—Antoinette Spaak led the Democratic Front of Francophones—and a son, the diplomat Fernand Spaak. After her death in August 1964, he married Simone Dear in April 1965. His niece was the actress Catherine Spaak. During the 1940s, during his time in New York with the United Nations, he also had an affair with the American fashion designer Pauline Fairfax Potter (1908-1976).

Spaak in numismatics

Spaak has left such a legacy behind, that he was the main motive for one of the most recent and famous gold commemorative coin: the Belgian 3 pioneers of the European unification commemorative coin, minted in 2002. The obverse side shows a portrait with the names Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak and Konrad Adenauer.

Trivia

  • In the election for De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian) Spaak ended on the 40th place in the Flemish version and on the 11th place in the Walloon version.
  • In 1938 he allowed Herman Van Breda to smuggle the legacy of Edmund Husserl out of Nazi Germany to Belgium through the Belgian Embassy in Berlin.
  • Despite their strong political differences, he had a great friendship with Portugal dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

See also

References

  • Spaak, Paul-Henri (1971). The Continuing Battle: Memoirs of a European, 1936-1966. London: Weidenfeld. ISBN 0-297-99352-6.

External links

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