Emile Noël Fellows

Emile NoëlEmile Noël

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.

"A 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.

He had 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.

Yet 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.

In 1954 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 staff.

Emile 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 possible.

His tenacity, as Monnet said, matched his modesty.

In the 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.

In 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.

His 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."

Emile Noël died in Viareggio, Italy, 24 August 1996.

Second 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 soul.

His impassive qualities were greatly valued in the Berlaymont Buildingnot 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 colleaguesthough 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 done with.

Probably the recognition of the European ethos in which he took the greatest pride was the achievementmuch of it was due to his own delicate diplomacyin getting the President of the Commission to be present (ultimately as of right) at all Heads of Government summits.