This post was published by Bruegel on April 20, as start of a series on How Bruegel Was Born to be continued later this summer.
Ten years ago, on 20 April 2005, Bruegel’s fledgling team moved into what would become its permanent address, on the third floor of 33 rue de la charité / liefdadigheidstraat 33 in Brussels. The works to adapt our premises to their use as a think-tank venue was still far from finished. A few days later, Bruegel’s Board held its second meeting in what was still a makeshift boardroom in a vast open space. Most internal walls came only later.
At that time, Jean Pisani-Ferry, who had been appointed Bruegel’s first Director in January, Yvonne Hilario, Jozefien Van Damme and I were still entirely focused on the early operational and organizational build-up, also relying on Soizick Bévan as the project’s generously pro bono consultant. The research team would take initial shape only later in the spring, with the arrival of André Sapir as Bruegel’s first Senior Fellow, followed by three Research Fellows who have since moved on to expanded horizons: Alan Ahearne as a senior Irish financial and monetary policymaker, Juan Delgado as chief economist of the Spanish Competition Authority, and Jakob von Weizsäcker as Member of the European Parliament from the German SPD party.
That year 2005 was effectively when Bruegel started. There were many milestones, all of them important. On 17 January, the Board had its first meeting, at Brussels’s timeworn University Foundation near the Royal Palace. Under Chairman Mario Monti’s leadership, it adopted the name Bruegel – which Monti had himself suggested, playing on the idea of a “Brussels European and global economic laboratory” – and marked the start of Bruegel actual operations. The day after, Monti and Pisani-Ferry held a press briefing in which the new child was announced to the world, and received promising initial coverage.
Die Zeit emphasized the project’s Gemütlichkeit, calling it “Bruegels Denkstube”; Libération noted approvingly that it might help Europe find a voice to match les influents think tanks américains; the Italian press understandably focused on what the Bruegel chairmanship suggested about Monti’s future moves; and the Financial Times wrote “Monti recalled that Bruegel (the Elder, of course) was also known for his depiction of the Tower of Babel, which the think-tank would not resemble in the slightest.” A few days later, columnist Brian Groom noted in the same newspaper that “Initial fears at the European Commission that [Bruegel] would be another French-German manoeuvre to seize back the political initiative has turned out wide of the mark.”
After the move to the new offices, Bruegel held its first workshop there, on 13 May, on “Europe’s productivity drift and how to reverse it”. On 27-28 June it held its first high-level conference on the challenge to trade multilateralism from regional deals, a theme that also resonates these days, in the historic Erasmus House in Anderlecht. On 9 September, Bruegel’s first paper, written by André Sapir, was distributed and discussed at an informal ECOFIN meeting in Manchester. That same paper, “Globalization and the Reform of European Social Models”, was published as Bruegel’s first Policy Brief on 24 October, on a visual charter designed by Jean-Yves Verdu, who had also created the Bruegel logo. It firmly established Bruegel as a source of influential policy ideas from the very outset.
Even though the events of 2005 felt like a series of beginnings, they were also the culmination of a process of gestation that had started three years earlier. Both Jean Pisani-Ferry and I had been thinking about the possibility of a new European think tank, first on separate tracks and then jointly after a lunchtime conversation in Paris on 18 October 2002. The project was launched on 22 January 2003, by Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder as part of the joint French-German declaration on the 40th anniversary of the de Gaulle-Adenauer Elysée Treaty. After some delays, it was then further elaborated by a French-German working group that brought it to discussion within the European Economic and Financial Committee, initially introduced by Jean-Pierre Jouyet and Caio Koch-Weser on behalf of their respective finance ministries. On 9 March 2004, 11 EU member states (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and – last but never least – the UK) announced their initial agreement to support Bruegel’s launch, conditional to successful fundraising from the private sector that was secured later in 2004. Pisani-Ferry was appointed project manager on 1 April 2004, and the legal entity that is Bruegel was formally created on 10 August 2004. This paved the way for the formation of Bruegel’s first Board, which Monti accepted to chair shortly after leaving the European Commission in late October 2004.
All these dates were, each in its own way, birthdates of Bruegel. Since then, our think tank has rapidly gained recognition and reputation, indeed more quickly than its founders initially thought possible. As for real estate, we expanded further in 2008, and will do so again later this year with a larger room for workshops and conferences and new facilities for our visitors and staff.
Bruegel is typically focused on the present and future, more than on the past. Nevertheless, the tenth anniversary of its start provides an appropriate occasion to recall how it all started. As one who was present at the creation, I will tell that story in further blog posts in the course of this year of celebration – while at the same time wishing Bruegel many more decades of success, expansion, and hard work.