Oral History Interview with
E. H. van der Beugel
The Hague, Netherlands
June 1, 1964
By Philip C. Brooks
ERNST H. van der Beugel. From Marshall Aid to Atlantic Partnership (Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company, 1966); from book jacket:
Ernst H. van der Beugel (b. 1918) has had a distinguished and active career in International diplomacy. He graduated M. A: (Econ.) In 1941 at the University of Amsterdam, taking up his first post in 1945 at the Ministry of Transport. In 1946 he joined the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The following year he was Secretary to the Dutch Delegation at the first Paris Conference on the Marshall Plan. The author was appointed Director of the Division of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1948 which handled the Dutch side of the Marshall Plan and O. E. E. C. This led to his appointment in 1952 as Director-General for Military and Economic Affairs of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of O.E.E.C., NATO, and European Integration problems. In 1957 he became Deputy Foreign Minister with special responsibility for European and NATO problems.
On the resignation of the Dutch Cabinet In December 1958 Ernst van der Beugel was appointed Special Advisor to the Foreign Minister and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. In 1959 he became Deputy President of K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airlines and, in 1961, President. He resigned early in 1963 and is now engaged partly in academic work in addition to his business commitments as Director of many Dutch financial and industrial enterprises and of a London Merchant Bank. He maintains his active interest in foreign affairs as Vice-Chairman of the Netherlands Institute for Foreign Affairs, Honorary Secretary General of the Bilderberg Group etc. He is a regular visitor to the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University where he lectures on American-European relations. He is the author of many articles on foreign policy in Dutch, French, British, and American publications.
My interview with Mr. van der Beugel was suggested by the American Embassy at The Hague, and also by Dr. Dirk Stikker. Mr. van der Beugel is a pleasant, enthusiastic, and impressive person. At the time of my interview he was working on his book on the Marshall Plan. In his house in a suburb of The Hague he has a study containing an exceptionally complete library of books on the Marshall Plan and post-war Europe. He combined the roles of a participant in the events which we were discussing and also of a scholar more than any other person whom I interviewed.
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened June 1966
Harry S. Truman Library
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European Recovery Program Oral History Interview with
E. H. van der Beugel
The Hague, Netherlands
June 1, 1964
By Philip C. Brooks
DR. PHILIP C. BROOKS: Mr. van der Beugel, may we start this by my asking you to repeat what you were telling me about your association with Mr. Hirschfeld. Let me say that I am concentrating on the early phases of the Marshall Plan because this is when the policy was established, and also because I want to keep my own project within manageable bounds. So in general, I'm primarily interested in the years 1946 to 1948. Now, you were in the Ministry of Economics before
MR. E. H. VAN DER BEUGEL: I was in the Ministry of Economics before that period, and I told you that I was on holiday and my minister called me in France and he said, "Well, the Secretary of State has made a rather important speech at Harvard University. We don't know what it is all about, but it looks very important to us. There will probably be a conference in Paris, and we are sending Dr. Hirschfeld and the Dutch delegation to Paris. The delegation needs a young secretary and are you willing to go there?"
I said, "Well, I'll be delighted." And I went to Paris and saw Dr. Hirschfeld for the first time; and then the whole thing started and we were in Paris in that very, very hot summer of 1947. We were in Paris to make the reply to the Marshall Plan, and we'll certainly talk about that aspect of the matter. Then I had a most fascinating
experience because, as you know, after we had finished the report there was a small group of Europeans invited to Washington, in order to present the Paris Report to the Administration and to discuss it with the Administration.
That was October '47, and that was a very funny experience because we had to assist the Administration in preparing the presentation to Congress. There were two aspects of that exercise which were fascinating: the first was, that for the first time a group of Europeans went to the United States, not as Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Swedes, and Englishmen, but we went there as representatives of the European group. We had no national mandate; we had an international mandate, for the first time in history, I think. And second, a very interesting thing about it was that we were suddenly confronted with the very difficult relation between the Executive
and the Congressional branch of the United States Government. We were, as a matter of fact, mobilized by the Executive to help in getting the thing through Congress, which was a fascinating experience, because we knew from our study books how the relation between the Congressional and the Executive worked, but now we were definitely in it.
BROOKS: Well, Mr. van der Beugel, I gather then that you did not know much, if anything, about this plan beforehand?
VAN DER BEUGEL: No.
BROOKS: One of my questions is, did anybody know much about it beforehand?
VAN DER BEUGEL: No, we didn't know anything before. However, it was a very peculiar thing, in the months, let me say between February 1947 and
June 5, there was an atmosphere in Europe which was a balance between despair and hope. Reconstruction became extremely difficult; the dollar problem became the central problem in every European country, and there was a kind of feeling that nobody knew anything. It was the kind of feeling there that something will happen in Washington. It's very difficult to trace why this feeling existed. I think it started in a more concrete way after the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine, so after March -- the period between March and June -- there was a feeling that the Americans were moving into Europe. I remember very well, because I was a secretary to the Cabinet, that the Dutch Cabinet had to decide whether it should go on with its dollar imports with the terrible risk of spending practically the last dollars and hoping that something would happen, or simply to stop the thing. And then
the Cabinet decided to go on, which was a very risky decision but they went on with the dollar import, because everybody had the feeling that something would happen.
BROOKS: I talked to Mr. Kristensen in Paris and he told me very much the same thing and he said that he attended a meeting of finance ministers in Stockholm in May, and this very same thing was discussed, that they expected something, that he felt something. In fact, he was told later that he had predicted the Marshall Plan, because he said, "Something is in the wind."
VAN DER BEUGEL: No, nobody predicted it, but I think the reason that the response was so immediate was twofold: first, that people sensed that something would happen; and the second reason was that we needed it so much. There was no other problem of this magnitude in Europe at that time, than
the dollar problem. The dollar problem was the overriding central problem.
BROOKS: You suggested about four of my questions already. One is, the relationship of the Greek-Turkish aid program, the Truman Doctrine to the Marshall Plan. I was told in Southern Europe, in Italy and Greece, that they were all one program, that Greece was the key. Many people in the United States regard them as two quite separate things, one primarily defensive against the Communists, one primarily for internal recovery in Europe. Now, of course, these are intermingled. But one of the questions is, how much were people concerned about the Greek-Turkish program, or how much did they know about it?
VAN DER BEUGEL: Oh, they definitely knew about it and I think that from the point of Europe, people who were interested in foreign policy,
the Truman Doctrine made a tremendous impression, because -- well, let me put it like this: because it was the absolute opposite of isolationism. I mean, if you put the Monroe Doctrine and the Truman Doctrine together, then you have the really two opposite theses. One was total isolationism, and the Truman Doctrine, in the way it was presented, was total engagement.
BROOKS: I've been told in several places that the Marshall Plan was the economic turning point in the history of Europe. Evidently, most people feel that the reason was the unique feature of Secretary Marshall's speech that it called upon the Europeans to get together and work out a common statement of their needs and work out a common program rather than having the United States give aid to every country individually. First, would you agree that this was a turning point; and, secondly was
this a surprise -- the cooperative feature?
VAN DER BEUGEL: Yes. I think that everybody sensed from the first moment on that there were two aspects. The first was the national reconstruction aspect, and the second was the cooperation aspect. In perspective of history, I think the cooperation aspect of it was, for history's sake, probably even more important than the first one.
BROOKS: Very much has been built upon it.
VAN DER BEUGEL: Everything, everything.
BROOKS: I'm interested in knowing whether there were any precedents, I mean, any preliminaries in the way of economic cooperation? Some people have said that this was the first time the European countries really got together and cooperated in an economic way.
VAN DER BEUGEL: On that scale, without any doubt.
BROOKS: Was the Benelux Customs Union experience important as a precedent?
VAN DER BEUGEL: Yes, it was important as a precedent. For instance, one of the remarkable things was that when we went to Paris and the committees were nominated, it was decided that the conference in Paris would be steered by an executive committee. Now you imagine what kind of fight goes on when I think five countries are nominated out of sixteen. And then it was decided that Hirschfeld would take a place on the executive committee, on behalf of the Benelux countries. So Hirschfeld represented the Benelux on the executive committee, which was a very remarkable thing.
BROOKS: I spoke last week with Baron Snoy...
VAN DER BEUGEL: Well, yes, he was one of the old hands
BROOKS: ...and he felt that the Benelux experience was useful.
VAN DER BEUGEL: Very useful.
BROOKS: And he himself assumed the chairmanship of the major committee in OEEC didn't he?
VAN DER BEUGEL: Yes.
BROOKS: At the time, I believe that there were people who felt that because the Benelux Customs Union was not completely worked out yet (the treaty wasn't signed until the next year) perhaps it illustrated some of the difficulties that were ahead. One thing I wanted to ask you, if you remember, did you feel at that time, that the degree of cooperation that Marshall called for was possible?
VAN DER BEUGEL: Well, we felt very strongly that the ideas about cooperation in the United States
were very outspoken, but not concrete at all.
BROOKS: No, the reference in the Marshall speech is very general.
VAN DER BEUGEL: In the Marshall speech it is very general and nobody knew exactly how this cooperation was going to work. It was very remarkable that, on the one hand, there was so much insistence on the American side on European cooperation and on the other hand, no concrete thoughts how this cooperation would really emerge. And so we went through very different phases. The first idea was to make a coordinated program, a European program. Now, after a few months, people discovered that this was an exercise which, if successful, would take years to bring out. Because there were all these different economies, one planned, one not planned, one liberal, one socialist, with
absolutely different grades of economic development. Take a country like Greece on the one hand, Sweden on the other hand. So, there were no concrete ideas about cooperation. However, the Marshall Plan in my idea, is the first stimulus to European integration and cooperation. There's no question about that.
BROOKS: What would you say the Netherlands most needed or most expected from the Marshall Plan?
VAN DER BEUGEL: Two things. The bilateral reconstruction, I mean the need for the country to get dollars. We had a terrible time and we were harmed and hurt in this German occupation, from an economic standpoint, practically more than any other country and that's the reason the Netherlands got the most Marshall aid per capita. The Netherlands got an enormous amount of Marshall aid. That was the first thing.
The second thing which was extremely important for us, was the restoration of our relations with Germany, because this country without the German hinterland is, of