The British civil servant who helped construct Europe


David Williamson, whose loss of life on the age of 81 has simply been introduced, was adept at reconciling variations.

A British civil servant, Williamson was as soon as described by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “maybe the mainstay” of her group of officers engaged on European coverage. He laid the foundations for her triumph on the Fontainebleau summit in June 1984, when she gained the U.Ok. a rebate on its contribution to the EU funds.

But Williamson later moved easily on to Brussels to develop into secretary-general of Jacques Delors’ European Fee, in what’s now considered maybe the heyday of its enlargement. Delors and his closest lieutenant, Pascal Lamy, formed coverage, however Williamson’s contribution was additionally very important, smoothing over variations within the Fee departments and guaranteeing that their plans had been executed all through the establishment.

For Williamson, schooled within the British custom of a impartial civil service, on the disposition of its political masters, there was nothing unusual about going from Thatcher to Delors. Nonetheless, Delors was initially reluctant to nominate him, not less than based on the memoirs of David Hannay, who was the U.Ok.’s ambassador to the EU on the time.

The selection of a Briton had been extremely political — and was the results of a trade-off between the EU’s greatest powers. On the creation of the Fee, the put up of secretary-general went to a Frenchman, Emile Noël, as a result of a German, Walter Hallstein, had been made president. Noël then remained in workplace for 30 years. As his retirement approached, and Delors, one other Frenchman, was chosen as Fee president, the British authorities argued that his substitute needs to be a Briton, to which then-French president François Mitterrand consented.

“He was typically the oil on the troubled waters of Britain’s relations along with her companions” — Stephen Wall.

Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe, her overseas minister, put ahead Williamson, who had already served six years because the Fee’s deputy director-general for agriculture (1977-83), seconded from the U.Ok.’s ministry of agriculture, the place he had begun his civil service profession in 1958. He went again to London to be the prime minister’s major EU adviser, coordinating European coverage throughout the assorted departments of the civil service.

It was on this capability that he was so carefully concerned with Thatcher’s EU coverage. Within the 1985 negotiations on the contributions to the EU funds, Williamson’s familiarity with the intricacies of the Widespread Agricultural Coverage had been clearly very helpful. Michael Butler, a British ambassador to the EU who labored with Williamson on the file, described Williamson as “a born negotiator.”

In on each assembly

In his biography of Thatcher, the journalist Hugo Younger rejects the concept that Thatcher signed as much as the Single European Act with out figuring out what was in it, by quoting Williamson: “I used to be current in 10 Downing Road on one event when Mrs Thatcher got here down the steps and stated to me, ‘I’ve learn each phrase of the Single European Act.’” By the point the SEA got here into impact, Williamson was on the Fee, utilizing it to construct up the only market.

Stephen Wall, a former U.Ok. everlasting consultant to the EU who has develop into a historian of Britain’s relations with the bloc, describes Williamson’s fashion on the Fee as a mixture of  “appeal, decency, effectivity, talent and ingenuity.” And he writes of Williamson’s relations with Thatcher: “He had by no means misled her however had typically led her to options that her instincts may need rejected. He was typically the oil on the troubled waters of Britain’s relations along with her companions.”

Looking back, it’s simple to underestimate the immensity of the duty that confronted Williamson when he took over because the Fee secretary-general in 1987. The put up had had just one earlier occupant, Noël, who had outlasted all Fee presidents earlier than Delors.

In consequence the establishment bore Noël’s imprint, however had far outgrown the times when the secretary-general used to welcome every new recruit to the administration. It was a situation of Williamson’s appointment that he ought to converse in French when chairing conferences — a situation that’s unlikely to be imposed in the present day.

It fell to Williamson to construct up the information-gathering equipment of the secretariat-general within the days earlier than the Web and e mail simplified that activity. He prolonged and strengthened, as an illustration, the practise of officers from the secretariat-general attending committee conferences of the European Parliament. He additionally arrange activity forces and dealing teams that had been later to evolve into Fee departments.

Williamson himself wrote in 2006 that: “Over a interval of ten years as Secretary Normal I participated in each main European Union occasion. I used to be current at each assembly of the Heads of State and Authorities within the European Council and took part within the drafting of the conclusions. I used to be current at each assembly of the International Affairs Council and at conferences of the Financial and Finance Council; I used to be at each plenary session of the European Parliament and on the many hundred conferences of the European Fee itself.”

‘Extraordinarily loyal’

One in every of Williamson’s extra routine duties was to chair the weekly conferences of the heads of the commissioners’ places of work. Only a 12 months earlier than he took over as secretary-general, the EU had admitted its 11th and 12th member states (Spain and Portugal). Through the course of his tenure, Austria, Finland and Sweden had been admitted in 1995, the school of commissioners grew to twenty members and he arrange a activity power to cope with German reunification.

Jim Cloos, now a deputy director-general within the secretariat of the Council of the EU, was head of the non-public workplace of Luxembourg’s then European commissioner, René Steichen, when he first encountered Williamson. Later he headed the workplace of Jacques Santer, who took over from Delors as president of the European Fee. In that capability he labored carefully with Williamson every single day for nearly 5 years.

“He was extremely exact, extraordinarily hard-working, with a really good humorousness,” Cloos stated, including that Williamson’s modesty belied the breadth and depth of his data. What mattered to Williamson was that the Fee needs to be efficient. He was not an ideologue, however a pragmatist, involved to get issues performed.

“He defended the thought of the Fee on the service of the member states,” Cloos stated. “He was extraordinarily loyal to the establishments. He understood they might be efficient solely with the assist of the member states.”

James Elles, who labored as Williamson’s assistant within the Fee’s division for agriculture and went on to be an MEP for 5 phrases (1984-89 and 1994-2014), stated his power was “phenomenal”. “He was powered by a nuclear cell. He was unstoppable.”

This text was up to date to make clear the date of Fontainebleau.

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