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Roger Ockrent Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Roger Ockrent

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

Brussels, Belgium
July 8, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Notice
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. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Roger Ockrent

Brussels, Belgium
July 8, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson

[1]

WILSON: Please tell me of how you first came to be associated with the Marshall plan.

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

[2]

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?

[3]

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, so

[4]

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.

[5]

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, too.

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

[6]

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

[7]

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

[8]

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.

[9]

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.

[10]

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 for Europe.

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

[11]

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 that time?

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 Harriman,

[12]

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.