Thinking Aloud: Leo Tindemans, 1922-2014

Jan. 8, 2015 by Darius

Leo Tindemans died recently at age 92.  His may not be a household name in the US, but he was one of the fathers of the European Union.

Leonard Tindemans was born in 1922 in a town near Antwerp, in Flanders, Belgium, the son of a mechanic.  During World War II, he became a refugee when Belgium was occupied by Germany.  In 1958, Tindemans entered politics with the Christian Democrat Party.  He rose through the ranks, being first elected to the Belgian chamber of deputies in 1961 and ultimately becoming prime minister of Belgium in 1974.  Belgian politics at this time was split between the French-speaking, Flemish-speaking, and German-speaking parts of the country, with each region feeling almost nationalistic towards the others.  Tindemans saw the solution to nationalism as more integration, not less.  In 1975, while still prime minister, Tindemans published a seminal paper calling for a Europe united economically and politically to combat internal divisions and present a solid front to the rest of the world.

In 1979, after resigning as prime minister, Tindemans was overwhelmingly elected to represent Belgium in the European parliament: a third of all eligible voters voted for him, the most for any candidate in Belgian history up to that point.  In the European parliament, Tindemans continued to fight for a united Europe.  After returning to the Belgian government as foreign minister, Tindemans retired from politics in 1999.

Today’s European Union is largely the brainchild of Tindemans and his allies from the 1970s.  The EU continues to include more and more of Europe, and despite challenges, has undoubtedly contributed to the economic growth and political stability of the continent—so much so that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.  Leo Tindemans had a lot to be proud of.

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