Three Wise Men

At the suggestion of French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the European Council meeting in Brussels in December 1978 decided to appoint three ‘eminent persons’ to report on ways of making the Community institutions more effective and of promoting progress towards European Union. They were asked to work within the provisions of the existing Treaties and in the light of the probable enlargement of the Community from nine to 12 mem­ber states. The ‘Committee of Three’, as they styled themselves, or the ‘Three Wise Men’, as they quickly became known, were Barend Biesheuvel, a for­mer prime minister of the Netherlands, Edmund Dell, who had recently resigned as trade secretary in the British Labour government, and Robert Marjolin, the distinguished French economist who had served as Secretary General of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) and Vice-President of the European Commission. Their work was paralleled by the Spierenburg Report on the internal organisation of the Commission, instigated in January 1979 and delivered in September that year.

The 118-page Report on European Institutions, delivered by the Biesheuvel, Dell and Marjolin in October 1979, eschewed ‘futuristic visions’ and focussed on practical improvements in ‘a situation of crisis, not only now but in the future’. In a detailed and impressive appraisal of the working of the institutions, it argued that the European Council should give ‘encouragement, coherence and overall direction’ to Community activity, based on a ‘master plan of priorities’ for coming years, that the presidency of the Council of Ministers should be strengthened and the Council have greater recourse to qualified majority voting (QMV), that there should be only one Commissioner per country, with the post of President of the Commission accorded greater power, and that inter-institutional relations should be strengthened, especially given that direct elections would increase the importance of the European Parliament. The report was discussed by foreign ministers and featured briefly on the agenda of European Council meetings in Dublin (November 1979) and Luxembourg (April and December 1980). Although the recommendations of the Three Wise Men had little immediate effect on the functioning of the Community – prompting disappointment among reformers at the time – their conclusions were to exercise a constructive influence on the general drift of opinion on institutional issues during the coming decade.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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