“Ah, the fervent revolutionary!” exclaimed Henri Frenay, smiling. It was a summer day in 1962, and I was seated on an English style leather sofa in the rather dark living room of his apartment in the centre of Paris. I had come to confirm to him that a few months earlier I had married the secretary of the European Federalist Movement of Geneva. What could be better than to share an ideal, work together, have the same plans in life, besides having a family and children?
As a couple we were not of the calibre of Monsieur and Madame Curie, nor of that possessed by revolutionary couples written about in history books, but we had a certain style. While acknowledging that I had ambitions, I considered myself to be fairly moderate and a little inclined to demagogy. In order to convince others, I first had to believe in myself. So, I checked everything.
My wife was a fairly radical type. I hoped that she would help me not only as a collaborator but also as a stimulus. She worked as a self-employed professional conference interpreter and was able to travel a great deal and choose from many work offers, given that the market was not as crowded as it is today.
Henri Frenay, the head of the “Combat” Movement, one of the greatest behind the French internal resistance during the Second World War, had contributed to the development of the European Union of Federalists. Their first meeting had taken place in 1946 in Hertenstein in the heart of William Tell’s Switzerland, and it had been followed by a constitutive assembly of the movement in Paris, in December 1946. On that occasion, Alexander Marc became the first Secretary General and Henri Brugmans, the first President. At the second Congress of the UEF in Rome in 1948 Henri Frenay succeeded him in this post.
The first Congress of the Union of European Federalists was organized in Montreux and prepared the ground for the great Congress of 1948 at Aja which launched the European Movement. It is important to remember that, thanks to the effort of a Swiss, Ernst Schenk, for the first time after the conflict, Germans were also invited to Montreux so as to underline the fact that the matter in hand was not only one of reconstruction but also, and above all, of building a Europe on new bases. Besides, even in Nazi Germany a democratic and federalist light had appeared, such as in the case of the White Rose group and the mayor of Cologne. This of course had been quickly extinguished by those in power.
On that day in 1962, Henri Frenay, the elderly founder of the Union of European Federalists and long time member of the executive Committee, was examining me under every aspect, while the situation was somewhat delicate. The Federalist movement was in crisis and had lost some of its influence. In the fifties it had started off in great style with several tens of thousands of members and activists throughout Europe but, after the European Defence Community (EDC) fiasco it had been split into two “internationals”.
One group was more moderate and aimed at continuing along the line of persuasion among the traditional political parties in each country. This group included the majority of the federalists and “Europeists” from the Nordic and Germanic countries under the banner of AEF (Action Européenne Fédéraliste). Faced with the failure of the EDC the other group was highly critical of the exclusive powers of the Nation-States. This was the European Federalist Movement (EFM), and to clearly underline its vocation and modus operandi it had abolished national hierarchies from its structure, only saving some coordinating bodies. The Secretariat in Paris was in direct contact with every region in which there were associates.
In 1962 the EFM still had, roughly speaking, ten thousand members; its headquarters was in rue de l’Arcade, subsequently transferred to rue de Trévise, but basically it could no longer count on money or financing of any kind apart from the membership fees and these were fairly modest.
The last Secretary General, André Delmas, a great Europeist coming from the Public Institution unions, succeeded another great figure from the Italian Resistance, Umberto Usellini. The latter had no longer been able to carry out that task and had decided to hand over the reins.
Henri Frenay’s reference to my wife was not casual: it was to her that I owed, indirectly, my candidacy to that post, for which there was no possibility of a salary, at a time of crisis for the federalist movements. I was expected to leave my work in the chemical industry and go to Paris to carry out my functions, hoping to find some way of financing all the activities. My personal survival was guaranteed by my wife’s employment opportunities.
I accepted the post but I kept my employment in Zurich. I explained my intentions clearly. If I had left immediately for Paris I would have spent all my time looking for money. It seemed to me that it would be more useful to devote myself to the Movement’s activities in the evenings, during the weekends and on any days I had free time for my federalist activities.
I was looked on with scepticism but there was no other choice, and so it was that this trial temporary commitment lasted seven years. There was a further complication. My wife was finding me too moderate. Having seen the consequences of my commitment, a year later she chose to have children. It was not difficult to understand her. In fact in 1964 alone, I travelled fifty two weekends out of fifty two, all over Europe. I left directly from the office on Friday evening, then from Zurich station, by second class train, sometimes in a couchette, if there was one, and often I returned directly to the office on Monday, after having been to Graz in Austria, or Rennes in Brittany, or Lubeck in Germany. On average I went to Paris twice a month. At rue de Trévise there was a poorly paid, nice young secretary, Yvonne, who coped as best as she could. In Zurich I went two or three times a week to eat the dish of the day in a restaurant between Bahnhofstrasse and Niederdorf. I would be accompanied by an hourly paid secretary, first one from Ticino, and later by a German Swiss, to whom I dictated letters or other texts which they delivered to me the next day.
Over the years I began to gradually reduce this pace, waiting in vain for an opportunity of having my work “professionalised”. Given the circumstances however, the initial scepticism had been replaced by the following comment: “If it works so well why change it?” There was also the fact that even with all the expenses, I was costing less than 1,000 Swiss francs a month (a little more than 1,000 euros today).
All things considered it was well worth having this experience. However, considerations concerning my wife’s work capacity apart, how is it that I came to be visiting Henri Frenay? That meeting greatly inspired me. I was inspired by his nobility of thought, kindness, evident rectitude and the determination of his personality. As we took leave of each other, he greeted me with the classic “Good luck and onward to the goal!”