Paul Henri Spaak

views updated Jun 11 2018

Paul Henri Spaak

The Belgian statesman Paul Henri Spaak (1899-1972) was an architect of the Benelux association of his country with the Netherlands and Luxembourg and a supporter of Western European military, economic, and political unity during the Cold War.

Paul Henri Spaak was born near Brussels on Jan. 25, 1899. His father was the writer Paul Spaak. Interned by the Germans during World War I, the younger Spaak thereafter studied law in Brussels. He was sent to the Chamber of Deputies in 1932 and rose through a number of Cabinet positions to become Belgium's first Socialist prime minister, in 1938. Despite his early experiences, Spaak was during this period a believer in Belgian neutrality and worked to disassociate his government from the Locarno Pact.

The experiences of World War II decisively affected Spaak's orientation. During the war he served as foreign minister in the Belgian government-in-exile in London. Returning to Brussels in 1944, he continued to serve in postwar coalition governments as foreign minister (1945-1947). He was again prime minister from March 1947 to August 1949, and foreign minister from April 1954 to May 1957. Spaak resigned his government position in 1957, but as head of the Socialist party, he became deputy prime minister in yet another coalition government in 1961.

During the postwar years Spaak's interest in and commitment to international organization enhanced his reputation. Already during the war he had worked toward the Benelux customs union (finally launched in 1948). He also promoted the idea of a Western European defense pact, then rejected on the grounds that it would lead to rivalry with the Soviets over the fate of Germany—a not altogether inaccurate prognostication.

Spaak's Western European defense plan was realized in the North Atlantic Treaty, which he signed in 1949. Meanwhile, he had been elected (January 1946) president of the General Assembly of the United Nations. As one of the staunchest of European integrationists, he was made president of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe (May 1951) and of the General Assembly of the European Steel and Coal Community (1952). From late 1957 to 1961, Spaak capped his career as a supporter of European unity by serving as the chairman of the Atlantic Council and secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

During Spaak's period of greatest activity, the unity he sought and partially achieved was economic. The Belgian statesman desired political unification but not on the basis of the Common Market countries alone. He therefore argued against further moves in this direction until the economic integration of Britain into Europe had been accomplished. He retired from political life in 1966 and died in Brussels on June 30, 1972.

Further Reading

Spaak wrote a very interesting account of his 30 years in public service: The Continuing Battle: Memoirs of a European, 1936-1966 (1972). J. H. Huizinga, Mr Europe: A Political Biography of Paul Henri Spaak (1961), deals with Spaak's life and work. For background on postwar Europe and its new arrangements see Max Beloff, The United States and the Unity of Europe (1963). □