BACKGROUND

The Hague Congress or the Congress of Europe is seen as a foundational moment in the process that led to the creation of the European Union. The Congress was held in The Hague from 7–11 May 1948 with 750 delegates participating from around Europe as well as observers from Canada and the United States of America.

Organised by the International Committee of the Movements for European Unity and presided over by Winston Churchill, the Congress of The Hague brought together representatives from across a broad political spectrum, providing them with the opportunity to discuss ideas about the development of European political cooperation. Important political figures such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, François Mitterrand (both ministers in Robert Schuman's government), three former French prime ministers, Paul Reynaud, Édouard Daladier, Paul Ramadier, Paul van Zeeland, Albert Coppé and Altiero Spinelli took part.

A broad range of philosophers, journalists, faith leaders, lawyers, professors, entrepreneurs and historians also took an active role in the congress. A call was launched for a political, economic and monetary Union of Europe.

This landmark conference was to have a profound influence on the shape of the European Movement, which was created soon afterwards. The European Movement was formally created on the 25th October 1948, when the Joint International Committee for European Unity decided to change its name to European Movement. Duncan Sandys was elected President and Léon Blum, Winston Churchill, Alcide De Gasperi and Paul-Henri Spaak were elected as Honorary Presidents.

The Spanish statesman Salvador de Madariaga proposed the establishment of a College of Europe at the Congress. This would be a college where university graduates from many different countries, some only a short while before at war with each other, could study and live together.

The Congress also discussed the future structure and role of the Council of Europe. Teitgen and Maxwell-Fyfe were instrumental in creating the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms at the Council of Europe.

The Congress provided the means to heighten public opinion for European unity. On 20 July 1948, at the Hague meeting of ministers of Western European Union, Schuman's Foreign Minister Georges Bidault proposed the creation of a European Assembly (realized in the later Council of Europe) and a customs and economic union (the later European Coal and Steel Community and the two communities of the Treaties of Rome). Thus the conclusions of the Congress became the subject of European governmental policy.

The commemorations of the Congress of The Hague every ten year have in themselves become an important tradition. These ten-yearly anniversary festivals, such as the one organized in 1998 (see here), or the grand events in 2008 drew a lot of attention from around the continent. Every ten years, these gatherings also constitute an important moment for assessing the ‘temperature’ in Europe. The festival is an occasion to put the spotlight on the vital importance of European civic input in the development of the EU.

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