EU policy think-tank Friends of Europe gathered some 600 policymakers and opinion leaders at Zaventem airport near Brussels on 4 October to celebrate the 75th birthday of its president, Viscount Etienne Davignon.
Hosted by Davignon, the annual Friends of Europe President’s dinner is described by the EU policy think-tank as “one of the highlights of the Brussels agenda, renowned for bringing together several hundred European personalities from the worlds of politics, business, civil society and media.”
Davignon, a former Commission vice-president and a close aide to Paul-Henri Spaak – one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the EU – in the early sixties, deserved recognition for his dedication to the European project (see recent interview with EURACTIV).
In his long career, Davignon has chaired a wide range of organisations including think-tanks, business organisations and charities. A book of testimonials from friends revealed a range of achievements that few people could suspect (see Davignon’s profile on Wikipedia).
But the evening was not only consensual praise; it also included humour and challenging questions.
Pat Cox, former president of the Parliament and president of the European Movement, asked Davignon “why he sold Belgium”, in reference to the foreign takeover of large Belgian conglomerates that Davignon helped to mastermind.
Susan Georges, co-founder of ATTAC, which led the campaign for the “No” vote on the EU Constitution in France, criticised the ‘Euro-establishment’ that Davignon symbolises.
Pascal Lamy, former EU trade commissioner and current head of the WTO, suggested several options for Davignon’s future. These included President of the European Council (“to render harmless this time bomb put under the EU institutions building”), and Chairman of Suez–Prom, a tongue-in-cheek reference to a possible merger of Suez-GDF with Gazprom – “but only in the long term since Suez and Gaz de France would first have to really merge!”
As one of his many occupations, Davignon is currently Vice Chairman of Suez-Tractebel whose mother company Suez is in the process of being merged with state-owned energy utility Gaz de France (EURACTIV 4/09/07).