Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi has been recognized as the leading public figure for the promotion of a united Europe. Born in Tokyo on November 17, 1894, son of an Austrian-Hungarian diplomat and a Japanese mother, he devoted his entire life to the movement for liberty and the union of our continent. He belonged to a generation of intellectuals who had experienced the times that signaled the end of the “Old Europe” and the nostalgia of the “fin de siècle” and which simultaneously, marked the beginning of the industrial revolution. In contrast to the totalitarian approach found in Fascism, National Socialism and Communism, Coudenhove-Kalergi created the idea of a Pan-Europa.
Following the devastating impact of World War I, Coudenhove-Kalergi wrote his first Manifest of Europe with his vision: “Continental Europe from Portugal to Poland will either unite in form of one state or experience peril politically, economically and culturally in this century”. In 1923 Coudenhove-Kalergi founded the Pan-Europa Union as the first international non-state organization with the aim to set course and pave the road to a united Europe.
Coudenhove-Kalergi’s efforts led to the first Pan-Europa Congress in Vienna in the year of the Foundation’s birth, 1923. The Austrian Chancellor Ignaz Seipel opened the Congress with a speech in the presence of 2000 participants. The highly respected French Minister of Foreign Affairs Aristide Briand was nominated President of Honor of the Congress. On several previous occasions Briand had suggested to consider establishing a Federation of European Nations to the League of Nations in Geneva. But an economic crisis and National Socialism overshadowed this initiative. 1932 – during the Pan-Europa Congress in Basel – Coudenhove-Kalergi offered a stern warning “Stalin prepares for the civil war – Hitler prepares for the war between the nations.”
World War II could not be prevented and Coudenhove-Kalergi continued to publish his European Letters in Basel. Based on his firm belief that the Allies would claim victory he emigrated to the United States in 1940. In 1941 he was asked to hold a seminar on “Research for a Postwar European Federation” at the University of New York. In 1943 he prepared another Pan-Europa Congress in New York, demonstrating openly an anti-Soviet attitude and promoting the idea of a “Constitutional European Assembly”.
Upon his return to Europe, Winston Churchill was Coudenhove-Kalergi’s primary mentor. Despite the urgency for a united Europe the European continent was preoccupied with post-war difficulties and challenges. Once again Coudenhove-Kalergi’s tenacity and initiative lead to the European Parliamentary Council which in turn, succeeded in its founding of the Council of Europe in 1949. The Council of Europe was established as an assembly of ministers which in its function of an advisory board, worked in close collaboration with a parliamentary council. European parliamentarism was born and the European Parliamentary Council became the Council of Europe.
In the years to follow, Coudenhove-Kalergi continued to commit himself to the Pan-Europa Movement. In 1954 the sixth Pan-Europa Congress took place in Baden-Baden. An international Central Council was assembled that consisted of statesmen, intellectuals and economic leaders. Coudenhove-Kalergi remained President of the Pan-Europa Union.
The Pan-Europa Union continued to positively influence the economic and political integration of a united Europe despite repeated incidents of undermining efforts from various sources. De Gaulle’s inability to sustain a solid, trust based relationship with Konrad Adenauer and his successors to maintain close collaborations in European politics was just but one example. For Coudenhove-Kalergi the German-French collaboration remained the one central issue for a successful unification of Europe, a statement which has proven itself up to today.
Coudenhove-Kalergi did retire from the daily involvement in politics during the last decade of his life. In 1965 he transferred the office of the Pan-Europa Union to Brussels and Vittorio Pons, then Councellor of the Commission of the European Community (EG), took over as the head of the mission. Furthermore, he designated his Vice-President Otto von Habsburg as the next President of the organization. Coudenhove-Kalergi’s choice of a successor for presidency was based on the fact that von Habsburg did not belong to any European nation and so, therefore, possessed an unprecedented patriotism for a united Europe. Von Habsburg officially became President in 1973 after Coudenhove-Kalergi’s death.