Oral History Interview with
Belgian diplomatist, Secretary to the Prime Minister and Secretary of the Council of Ministries, 1947-48; Secretary General for Administration of the Marshall plan in Belgium, 1948-53; Permanent Representative, Head of Belgian delegation and Vice Chairman of the Council, O.E.E.C., 1953-57; Belgian Ambassador to O.C.D.E., 1958-74; and Chairman of the O.C.D.E., Executive Committee, President of the International Energy Agency, 1973-74
July 8, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
July 8, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson
WILSON: Please tell me of how you first came to be associated with the
OCKRENT: I was then just getting with [Paul-Henri] Spaak, who was Foreign
Minister in '47, as well as being Prime Minister. It had been a long time
since the Socialists had succeeded in forming a government. When the Marshall
plan started, he looked for a good man. We thought about Andre de Staercke,
who is my colleague now, who was secretary to the Prince Regent at the
time. The Prince Regent accepted our plan to use Andre de Staercke, and
so Spaak asked me to do it. So I moved from the Cabinet of the Prime Minister,
and I set up a new administration in Belgium to deal with the Marshall
plan for Belgium. I was not able to do this kind of job without coming
to Paris in the OEEC (Organization for European Economic Cooperation),
you see. So I came to all the important meetings of the Council, or of
the Executive Committee, since 1948. I came here practically once or even
twice a week. I came to the most important meetings with Baron [Charles
J.] Snoy and Hubert Ansiaux. Snoy was in charge of general economic programs
and trade programs, and Ansiaux was in charge of the financial program.
I was the youngest of the three, and I was handling our contacts with
the Foreign Office and all the departments.
WILSON: I was wondering. The decision was made to set up a somewhat separate
organization in Belgium. That is, you were not directly under one of the
normal Cabinet offices?
OCKRENT: Yes, because I had to, because I was not a Minister, and so I
had to have some link with one of the Ministers. Politically speaking,
you cannot imagine an administration which is not under the political
responsibility of the Minister. That was the equilibrium. Inside of the
Cabinet you had Socialists and Christian Democrats, and there was one
so-called 'technocrat." There was one man, a very close friend of
Spaak, and a first-class man. His names is [George] Moens de Fernig. Perhaps
you can see him too if you are back to Brussels, and tell him that I told
you to see him. He was Minister for Foreign Trade Imports, ERP. That involved
al1 kinds of imports which we needed in '47-'48. The Marshall plan administration
was given to him, politically. In fact, he was very closely linked to
Spaak because they were and are still very close friends. He was a technocrat
[non-party technician], and was neither a Socialist nor Social Christian
Democrat. I was very fortunate to have him as boss, because he's a businessman,
he handled all this as a businessman, you see. I had the opportunity to
be supported by a man in the Cabinet who says, "I need so many civil
servants, and such and such grades, and if you don't have them, well,
go to hell, I will quit. And I will say to the House when they ask why
I'm quitting, 'Because you are not prepared to do the right job in the
right way."' I was very happy to have this kind of man, which you
don't meet very often in political life, for obvious reasons. And so I
worked with them, and he was the minister for the Marshall plan, during
those four years.
He [Fernig] played a very important role in Paris, too, because we had
this very special organization. Spaak was chairman of the Council of OEEC,
on the ministerial level. So was Baron Snoy [later]. On the -- let us
say -- civil servant level, in which there were meetings once or twice
a week Moens Fertig was the Belgian representative. He had the Belgian
seat on it, and I had the Belgian seat in the Council of Officials.
Snoy and Spaak were in the chair for the ministers, you see. So we had,
I think, what was the right kind of an organization to have. We made a
difference between the representative of Belgium, and our duty as chairman
of the Council. This is a tradition in Belgium, a tradition for which
I am very proud, because we never confused our national interest and,
let us say, the European interests. And going along with this kind of
tradition now, for eleven years I have been chairman of the committee
[OECD Executive Committee], and I've never taken the floor for Belgium
in these years. Sometimes, and I think Snoy did the same, I have opposed
the Belgian point of view from the chair. And this happened to Spaak,
WILSON: Quite remarkable.
OCKRENT: Yes, but I think that you can find that in small countries.
I am sorry to be so rude towards big countries; there is no question of
morality, just a question of possibilities. You can do that
in small countries; politicians cannot do that in a big country. All our
parliamentarians and the public are prepared to understand this kind of
schizophrenia, if I may say so. You know, all big countries, especially
European -- they cannot understand it. Just try to explain that to a man
like de Gaulle. I'm sure you would not succeed. It is just obliterated;
they would not understand it, even the language. But for a small country
it is quite possible, even for the Dutch, who are very nationalistic-minded,
too. Of course, we are also a very young country and so on and so forth.
WILSON: The French did go a certain way, though, and perhaps they went
further toward supporting a strong OEEC, than might have been expected
at the beginning. Is that correct?
OCKRENT: Yes. Let me say two things. It's not very easy to say, because
this is the part of your judgment and I may be wrong in this judgment,
but the French are much more Europeans than the British
ever were in OEEC, and later on in a lot of discussions on Common Market
and so on and so forth. But it is a fact, for reasons which could be explained,
and you know these as well as I. I'm not speaking now about "the
Six," because in truth the French are in the Six and the British
are not, although they were invited to be members, and to participate
in the discussions and negotiations.
I'm not criticizing the British. It's very difficult, and I think it's
always wrong, to pass a judgment towards a big group of people. Sociologists
and historians agree to that. These are generalizations that the French
have such, and the Americans have such, and the Germans have such; it
really depends on the kind of people you are meeting and dealing with.
WILSON: One of the ironies, I guess, was that Stafford Cripps was representing
the British at that time. That's been brought home to me quite clearly.
OCKRENT: Oh, Stafford Cripps was really a most conservative, nationalistic-minded
man, very brilliant
and very intelligent, and very courageous, but I never met him. But even
in meetings in OEEC between Spaak and Cripps, they are very amazing you
know. Even the British refused a post. They alone opposed the appointment
of Spaak to OEEC. It was because of that, because I saw that there was
a man of temperament, of power, of political growth and of skill, much
more than that, a Socialist, which in the eyes of Stafford Cripps was
an argument, paradoxically, against him. I remember really a big dispute
between them. Spaak seemed to wonder what they were doing here, if they
were opposing, all the time, everything that was suggested by France.
Of course, Stafford Cripps could use substantive arguments which Spaak
wasn't able to, because he was not an economist.
WILSON: From all that I've read and what people have said, though, Spaak
seems to have been able to penetrate to the heart of problems, even if
he had not the technical expertise. Amazing.
OCKRENT: Oh, yes, because as he says himself in his memoirs, and, as he
told his very close civil servants as I was, and as Snoy and Ansiaux were,
he was fortunate enough, he said, to have always very good and responsible
servants able to explain to him in very simple words just what was going
on. But it was much more than that. I never met anybody else, except maybe
the Prince Regent -- but I didn't know him as well as Spaak -- who was
able to look in your eyes and understand what you meant to say in discussions.
This exists, you know, from time to time, while meeting people.
WILSON: Were there serious repercussions within OEEC because of the failure
to get his nomination? Did any bitterness last long?
OCKRENT: I don't think so. I'll tell you why. Because OEEC at that time
was so watered down. That was the policy of the British, not to have anything
which would be able to go deeper or farther than we succeeded to go.
WILSON: I have the impression from the documents that I have been able
to see that the United States and [Averell] Harriman worked very strongly
for Spaak's nomination. But there also is the suggestion, and several
people have raised it and, indeed, in a way you have raised it, that the
British did enjoy some special relationship, to use that term. And the
British may have felt, well, that the Americans will push us; they'll
argue that we should cooperate more and yet in the end, in the last result,
they won't push us too hard because of politics or the connection. Was
that the case?
OCKRENT: Yes. American policy was always reluctant to dictate the policy
in Europe, and I think it was a wise thing to do; but it was very depressing
You are speaking about this issue of the nomination of Spaak -- Spaak
received a message, a handwritten letter from President Truman. Spaak
was his choice, and he was the choice of
the United States. Everything he had done had been done to have OEEC again
coming up, and it was disappointing for everybody, especially for Spaak,
not because an appointment had been sought, but because he hesitated very
much to quit political life, you know.
WILSON: He was also president of the Council of Europe, wasn't he, at
OCKRENT: Yes; and at that time he believed in the Council of Europe.
Well, he wasn't wrong, politically speaking. We needed to have parliamentarians
meeting, and it was very, very disappointing.
WILSON: Was there a time in which you could tell that American interest
in OEEC was subsiding, or slacking off? Some of the people have suggested
that it came at the time of the Korean war, and other people I've interviewed
have said it happened as early as the signing of the NATO treaty.
OCKRENT: It's very difficult to answer that. If you are looking at the
people the American Government appointed to Paris, to succeed Averell
they were all first-class people. And [Pau1] Hoffman was still in charge
in Washington so they were not secondary people.
Now, the United States is a big country, and the United States Government
is a big administration, and we used to say, "The American administration
is a building. And whatever the matter might be, whether it is EPU, or
whatever it is, depends on the floor we are going to." That was a
standing joke. And sometimes that was true to a certain extent.
For the behavior of the United States, let us take a recent event. We
had a visit here a few months ago of Mr. Lee Goodrich. He came here and
talked to us about environmental problems.