At the launch of a book on the history of the European Commission, officials revealed some of the best-kept secrets in EU history. Among them is the incredible story of the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, on 1 January 1958.
José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing President of the European Commission, presented the second volume of a book Wednesday (14 May) telling the history of the Commission between 1973 and 1986.
The ceremony, hosted on the 13th floor of the Commission’s flagship Berlaymont building, gave Barroso the occasion to disclose unknown anecdotes, the most extraordinary of which regards the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The event was attended by many figures of post-war European integration history, including old-time surviving officials from the Commission such as Jean Rabier, born in 1919, the chief of staff of Jean Monnet, one of the “founding fathers” of Europe.
Karine Auriol, Training adviser in the European School of Administration, described the story of the signature of the Treaty of Rome as follows:
An official of the Belgian government had been put in charge of organising the signature of the treaty establishing the European Economic Community in Rome. The treaty had just been negotiated in Val Duchesse, a former priory in Brussels. So the official places the material needed on a train: typewriters, paper, mimeograph machines. The cargo is sealed, and the official gets on board the same train.
But when the train reaches the Swiss border, the official hears the characteristic sound of a wagon being detached. He jumps on the station platform only to realise that it’s “his” wagon that has been detached. Swiss authorities explain that a train which transports goods and passengers at the same time is not allowed to cross into Swiss territory. The official has no choice, and the journey continues on board of separate trains.
But at the Italian border, the authorities ask him to provide import certificates with all the necessary stamps. While he tries to explain the importance of his mission and the Italian authorities finally agree to make an exception, the wagon is lost. After a long search, the wagon is finally found and the journey continues. But in Milan the wagon is lost again. When the Belgian office and the wagon arrive in Rome, a lot of time has been wasted.
As the official arrives in the room where the ceremony is held, another problem comes up, this time with the mimeograph machines (the copiers of that time). Plans to install the machines inside the room need to be changed because it is decorated by Rubens paintings. Mimeographs project ink in all directions and he is told that it is out of question to repaint the Rubens frescoes afterwards.
So the work of putting on paper the Rome treaty begins in the basement. To catch up, Italian students were hired, but two days later, they went on strike. They then had to bring secretaries from Luxembourg, which further delayed work.
But, in the end, when everything was finally ready, because of humidity, the paper was wet and had to be put on the floor for one night, in order to properly dry them.
The official went to sleep and came the next morning. But in the meantime the cleaning maids had passed, finding a basement full of what they see as disposed paper. So they had removed all this “dirt”, including the stencils (which represent the original), so new copies could not be made.
The panicked official and his team looked all over Rome, trying to find the treaty bearing the name of the Italian capital, to no avail. The only solution that was found was to sign the treaty on a blank sheet, with only one page where the names of the heads of state and government appear on top.
The organisers had not been too worried about the heads of state and government discovering the scam, as it was assumed that they would keep the secret. But in order to avoid journalists seeing the ad-hoc treaty document, the text was immediately locked in another room.
Karine Auriol said that by collecting such stories, she and other researchers thought it was necessary to dispel the myth that today’s European integration is more difficult than it has been before. The history of Europe has in fact always been one of crisis management, she said. Auriol added that there was also a need to “humanise” the myth of the founding fathers.
Barroso said that he had already asked the relevant services to initiate the preparation of a book covering the Commission’s work between 1986 and 2000. He praised the authors of the book, and said that his contribution had been the choice of the cover photo: the first raising of the EU flag on 29 May 1986 in front of the Berlaymont, where former Commission President Jacques Delors appears. After long discussions, EU institutions decided to adopt the flag of the Council of Europe in 1985.