Operation Welcome

How Strasbourg Remained a Seat of European Institutions, 1949–1979

by Claudia Leskien (Author)
©2016 Thesis 330 Pages


An accepted narrative within European integration history is that the issue in which city to locate European Community headquarters was decided on the intergovernmental level between the member states. In the present volume, this view is expanded with the example of Strasbourg by arguing that activity at the local level is an important factor as well.
A set of highly active political and associational local agents used different strategies to consolidate the city’s position against competing cities and the European Communities. This study finds that a highly specialised group of municipal politicians and civil servants were an important factor for bringing the European institutions to the city.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Illustrations and Tables
  • Abbreviations
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Section 1.01 Siting European institutions
  • Section 1.02 Siting institutions – not only a political issue
  • Section 1.03 Currency of the seat question
  • Section 1.04 Conceptualisations
  • Section 1.05 Structure of this book
  • Chapter 1. Strasbourg, seat of European institutions
  • (a) Alsatian history
  • (b) National political support for Strasbourg
  • (c) Local politics and European institutions
  • (d) Urban development after 1945
  • (e) Economic impact of the European institutions
  • Section 1.06 Attracting European institutions (1949-1952)
  • (a) Siting the Council of Europe
  • (b) Siting the institutions of the Schuman Plan
  • Chapter 2. Hosting Europe
  • Section 1.07 Constructing Strasbourg’s European mission
  • Section 1.08 Central Actors
  • (a) City/departmental administration
  • (b) Private organisations
  • (c) Other actors
  • Section 1.09 The start-up phase: 1949-1956
  • (a) Activities and accommodation
  • (b) Promotion of Strasbourg as seat
  • (c) Informing the public about European institutions
  • Section 1.10 The implementation phase: 1956-1959
  • (a) Using session frame programmes to increase renown as a host
  • (b) Competition with other seat cities
  • Section 1.11 The business-as-usual phase: 1960-1979
  • (a) Session frame programmes
  • (b) Developments threatening Strasbourg’s position 1960–1979
  • Section 1.12 Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter 3. L’Europe vient à Strasbourg
  • Section 1.13 Central Actors
  • (a) City/departmental administration
  • (b) Other actors
  • (c) Cooperation between actors
  • Section 1.14 Long-distance transport
  • (a) Air links
  • (b) Chauffeuring service
  • Section 1.15 Local transport
  • (a) Public transport
  • (b) Taxis
  • Section 1.16 Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter 4. Building Capacity to Cope
  • Section 1.17 Central Actors
  • (a) City/Departmental Administration
  • (b) Other actors
  • (c) Cooperation between actors
  • Section 1.18 Creating a European infrastructure: 1949-1964
  • (a) Constructions
  • (b) Accommodation
  • Section 1.19 The Palais de l’Europe
  • (a) Planning
  • (b) Affirming Strasbourg’s European mission
  • (c) Construction phase
  • (d) Summary
  • Section 1.20 The Immeuble Parlementaire Européenne (IPE)
  • (a) Planning the IPE
  • (b) Planning the construction
  • (c) Construction phase
  • Section 1.21 Concluding Remarks
  • Conclusion
  • Section 1.22 Mapping the local group of actors
  • Section 1.23 Strategies to consolidate the seat status
  • (a) Keeping it local
  • (b) Conditioning elements
  • (c) The competitive factor
  • (d) Promoting Strasbourg
  • Section 1.24 Perspectives
  • References
  • Section 1.25 Unpublished Sources
  • (a) ABR – Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, Strasbourg, France
  • (b) AC – Archive of the Council of the European Union, Brussels, Belgium
  • (c) ACE – Archive of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France
  • (d) AS – Archives de la Ville de Strasbourg et de la Communauté Urbaine, France
  • (e) CARDOC – Archive of the European Parliament, Luxembourg
  • Section 1.26 Published Sources
  • Section 1.27 Literature
  • Section 1.28 Web sites and online sources
  • Article XI. Appendixes
  • Section 2.01 Appendix I: Most active multipositioned actors
  • Section 2.02 Appendix II: Examples of Hosting Programme costs
  • The first EP session 19.-21.3.1958
  • PACE and EP session 19.-29.9.1961
  • Index
  • Series index

← 10 | 11 →

List of Illustrations and Tables

1. The inner circle of actors

2. Structure of the Comité Strasbourgeois pour le Mouvement Européen

3. Structure of the Cercle des Amitiés Européennes

4. Structure of the Cercle Européen de Strasbourg

5. Post-mark “Strasbourg, Siège du Conseil de l’Europe” (1957)

6. “Do not leave me”-post card (1964) ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →


CAECercle des Amitiés Européennes
CCIChambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Strasbourg et du Bas-Rhin
CESCercle européen de Strasbourg
CoECouncil of Europe
COREPERCommittee of permanent representatives
CSMEComité Strasbourgeois pour le Mouvement Européen
CTSCompagnie des Tramways/Transports Strasbourgeois
CUSCommunauté Urbaine de Strasbourg
DATARDélégation interministérielle à l’aménagement et à l’attractivité régionale
DNADernières Nouvelles d’Alsace
ECEuropean Community
ECSCEuropean Coal and Steel Community
EECEuropean Economic Community
EPEuropean Parliament
EUEuropean Union
EURATOMEuropean Atomic Energy Community
FIATFonds d’intervention pour l’aménagement du territoire
IGCIntergovernmental Conference
INSEEInstitut national de la statistique et des études économiques
IOInternational Organisation
MEPMember of the European Parliament
MPMember of Parliament
OEECOrganisation for European Economic Co-operation
PACEParliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
UNUnited Nations ← 13 | 14 →
UNESCOUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
WEUWestern European Union

Key to Archives

← 14 | 15 →


This book is based on my PhD-dissertation Operation Welcome. The Municipal Politics of Consolidating Strasbourg’s Position as European Institution Host from 1949 to 1979 which is the product of my doctoral studies from 2010 to 2014 at Aarhus University, Denmark. It is an independent study within the research project Institutions of democracy in transition. Transnational fields in politics, administration and law in Denmark and Western Europe after 1945 conducted by Associate Professor Ann-Christina Lauring Knudsen which ran from 2010 to 2013. The thesis investigates which local agents in the city of Strasbourg attempted to consolidate the city’s position as European institution host, as well as which measures and strategies they employed to achieve this aim.

The intergovernmental decision process of determining the host, or seat city, of the institutions of the European Communities is well known. The institutions of the Schuman Plan were provisionally located in Luxembourg and Strasbourg, while Brussels from 1958 started to house the new organisations following the Treaties of Rome the year before. My initial point of entry into the issue were the questions, whether actors on other levels than the intergovernmental one were involved and what occurred in the time spans between decisions of the foreign ministers of the European Communities. In a survey of available literature, it seemed as if Pierre Pflimlin, long-term mayor of the city from 1959 to 1983, was nearly singularly responsible for Strasbourg staying European institution seat.1

For a first brief research stay in the local archive in Strasbourg, I was interested in confirming or disproving my hypothesis that Pflimlin was the most important local actor in relation to consolidating the city’s position as institution seat. After the perusal of this brief search, it appeared that there seemed to have been a myth-building present in literature, because the mayor by no means was the only highly active actor. After a longer, more thorough research stay in the local archive, I can conclude that Pflimlin ← 15 | 16 → was important for Strasbourg, but also on a more abstract level. As my research shows, a small number of highly active and well-connected city administration politicians and civil servants, supported by various local associations were instrumental to Strasbourg’s consolidation efforts. While Pflimlin was not always as actively involved in day-to-day business, he was an important coordinating instance. Taking his importance to a more abstract level, his presence, political network and activity in lobbying for Strasbourg in national and European political circles was an essential element of consolidation efforts. However, in contrast to how available literature portrays him, he was by no means the only, most important actor. Those others can only be found if one looks within the city itself.

Therefore, due to the lack of previous studies concerned with local efforts of consolidating the host status of European institutions, my study is almost exclusively based on primary sources. I collected them from the Archive of the European Parliament in Luxembourg, the Archive of the Council of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, the Municipal Archive of Strasbourg, the Archive of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and the Archive of the Département du Bas-Rhin in the same city. I predominantly use documents from the local archive, supported by those from the departmental archive of Bas-Rhin. The fact that most sources are in the municipal archive demonstrates that most activity occurred on the local level. The institution archives commonly contain information corroborating the ‘accepted narrative’ of intergovernmental efforts to determine seats of European organisations without including a local dimension, although the archive of the Council of Europe also contains some sources on collaboration with actors in Strasbourg.

The placement of European institutions not only touches political issues as debates between nation states of which country should host the Community institutions, but also whether their placement makes the location a European capital in the sense that it executed the same functions as a national capital. These different forms of scholarship are all intertwined to varying degrees, although they are rarely covered comprehensively, but rather according to topic areas. Additionally, a double blind angle is present in these kinds of literature. Many focus on the present and do not provide much historical analysis; historical studies commonly do not cover the local level, especially in the case of Strasbourg.

One major issue that is not present in this collection of relevant literature from various fields that each discuss aspects of the seat question, is the comprehensive and encompassing study of local actors in an institution host city, their composition and their strategies to consolidate their position. Some works mention local actors in (prospective) seat cities such as Strasbourg and their initiatives, but the brief description of interaction ← 16 | 17 → generally remains on the intergovernmental and supranational levels by presenting either the member states or the European Communities as focal actors.2 Additionally, literature exists on Brussels or Luxembourg, but these only occupy themselves with one issue at a time, such as only political activity or infrastructure as will be presented below. Another gap is concrete consolidation efforts. In European integration histories, a concentration on the initial (provisional) sitings and subsequent decisions to finalise them, is apparent. This book aims to fill these lacunae with a case study of all ranges of local actors’ activities in the city of Strasbourg.

It draws on a mix of aspects from several disciplines that form the context of Strasbourg’s local actors and their strategies. Even though only the case of the Alsatian city is analysed, it was not isolated and influenced by the outside, such as the competitive situation with the other seats of the European Communities. This research fills the lacuna in European integration literature, which focuses nearly exclusively on the intergovernmental decision processes of determining the seat, with a comprehensive case study of local activity in one seat city of European institutions. In addition, it also combines the institutions of the European Communities with the Council of Europe3 that remain separate in European integration literature that generally concentrates on the former. ← 17 | 18 →

1 E.g. Clark, Stephen and Priestley, Julian, Europe’s Parliament. People, Places, Politics, London, John Harper, 2012, p. 47 or Hein, Carola, The Capital of Europe. Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union, Westport, Praeger, 2004, p. 100 or De Groof, Roel, “Promoting Brussels as Political World Capital. From the National Jubilee of 1905 to Expo 58”, in De Groof, Roel (ed.), Brussels and Europe – Bruxelles et l’Europe, Brussels, ASP, 2008, p. 119.

2 E.g. Hein, Carola, The Capital of Europe. Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union, Westport, Praeger, 2004, p. 100.

3 As will be shown in this study (especially in chapter 2), local actors in Strasbourg concentrated until the late 1950s nearly exclusively on the Council of Europe which had its permanent seat in the city since 1949.

← 18 | 19 →


With the increasing creation of international organisations (IOs) following the Second World War, the issue where and how to site them emerged as a new political theme, as well. Central concerns included the political and juridical status of their headquarter buildings and the areals they were constructed on. Next to the practical application with newly founded IOs, theoretical considerations were made, such as reflections on the status and the administration of its territory.1 In most cases, negotiations on these aspects occurred between the organisation or representatives of its member states with the government of the prospective host country. They did not seem to have resulted in protracted discussions.

One example constitutes the regional organisation Council of Europe (CoE), founded in 1949, whose siting in the city of Strasbourg, France, proceeded in that manner. In material issued by the organisation, such as the various editions of the procedure and practice of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE),2 a description of its founding process is included. From the matter-of-fact statement that its seat is in Strasbourg without any specification of the decision process,3 it becomes apparent that it must have been a relatively undisputed decision.

In contrast, the political question where to site institutions of the different European Communities has been a highly symbolic and contested matter with recurring discussions and attempts for a permanent solution. The treaty of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) specified that a seat should be found in common accord by the member states.4 From the Schuman declaration in 1950 until the Edinburgh European Council ← 19 | 20 → in 1992 and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 in which the long-standing provisional distribution of institutions between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg was inscribed into the treaty basis, the question where to site permanently the European Communities was a protracted process with many debates.5 The seat question is relevant today, since discussions still occur despite the protocol in the treaty and the preceding decision at the Edinburgh Council in 1992. For example, the campaign for a single seat of the European Parliament (EP) was founded in 2010 with the participation of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and other politicians, for example its chair British MEP and Vice-president of the EP Edward McMillan-Scott.6 The main arguments are different types of expenses that could be avoided in regard to the EP.7 This issue will be returned to below.

For the endeavour of studying these phenomena, the French city of Strasbourg8 constitutes an eminently suitable example of dynamics of local initiatives to retain the status as seat of European institutions. It has been the permanent seat of the CoE since 1949 and has hosted the EP and its predecessor assemblies from 1952 onwards. It has become synonymous with the EP and PACE; the designation ‘assembly of Strasbourg’ is a common moniker for both.9 It is also home to further European institutions, both affiliated to the CoE and independent. These include, among others, the European Human Rights Court, the Assembly of European Regions or the European Science Foundation.10 During the 1950s, other European and international organisations met in the city, as ← 20 | 21 → well. For instance, the European Parliamentary Union11 in the early or the Assembly of Captive European Nations12 in the latter half of the decade held several meetings in the city.13

The objective of this book is to investigate two central aspects of local activity regarding Strasbourg as European institution host. Firstly, the different local agents who were concerned with the European institutions in Strasbourg will be identified, as well as the nature of their involvement. Secondly, their activities will be discussed, namely what their strategies to consolidate Strasbourg’s position as seat were and how they employed them. The focus will be on the two organisations that were most important to local actors; the European Communities, as well as the Council of Europe.

This study is based on an extensive analysis of documents from the city administration and other organisations from the municipal archive of Strasbourg, supported by material from the departmental archive of Bas-Rhin. Through this investigation, three important themes have been identified, which are measures to host European parliamentarians during sessions, optimisation of the transport network and building infrastructure. The actors and their strategies that fall into each of these three areas will be discussed in a chapter that will highlight how the city of Strasbourg sought to consolidate its position as host of European institutions.

The analysis commences with the siting of the first European institution, the Council of Europe, in 1949, which was joined by the Common Assembly of the ECSC in 1952. The processes of locating these two institutions in Strasbourg are not the focus of this study. They will be outlined briefly in chapter 1 to provide the context for the efforts of local ← 21 | 22 → agents to consolidate their position. The activities of local agents to remain institution host was of a different nature than efforts to attract them. Apart from differing policies, the dimension of relations between the local and supranational levels would be much deeper had European organisations already been sited in a city. This connection could be employed strategically to consolidate the seat position by concentrating on a well-functioning relationship. Most academic literature focuses on the process of locating European institutions, or in the case of the European Community (EC) to re-decide or confirm the sitings, and not on concrete efforts to consolidate a (provisional) seat’s position.

The ending date of 1979 for this study has been chosen because of two main reasons. Firstly, local archive material shows that directly after this year, activity of local agents towards the European institutions began to decline, a stronger activity only redeveloped towards the end of the 1980s. Secondly, most local agents who had been involved from the beginning or the early stages during the 1950s, retired from politics in the course of the 1970s, completing a generation change. Mayor Pierre Pflimlin, in office from 1959 to 1983, was the last of this type of agents to leave. Nevertheless, when ongoing processes continued into the early 1980s, these will be included or an overview of further events will be given. This was especially the case with the construction of buildings for the EP after the first direct election that commonly ran from circa 1977 to 1981 and 1982. However, aspects following the tenure of Pflimlin as mayor will not be included in the analysis, since a wholly new set of actors began to operate the city’s consolidation efforts.

In European integration literature, the ECSC is already recognised as important in other seat cities such as Luxembourg, but the combination of its study with the CoE allows for a new perspective. Furthermore, this research constitutes a new contribution, as it is looking at the siting of the institutions but at the efforts to consolidate these placements. By doing this, a historical depth is added to the ongoing debate of the seat question which is another important addition. Especially in the early 1950s, local actors seemed to have concentrated on the CoE, as city administration documents suggest. Additionally, the CoE shared its facilities and especially the plenary hall with the assembly of the European Communities.14 ← 22 | 23 →

Section 1.01 Siting European institutions

The standard narrative in European integration history is that determining and consolidating the seats of the various Community institutions was either shaped by intergovernmental or national actors.15 Furthermore, scholarship on single institutions generally briefly covers political events regarding the siting of the particular organisation.16 Hardly any scientific attention has been paid to the aspect of local involvement in the processes of siting European Community institutions.17 Although the decision power to site the European institutions lay on the intergovernmental level, this must have been conditioned by other political activities. It is likely that the local level figured in a capacity, as well.

Although existing scholarship on political agency in the seat question hardly discusses local Strasbourgese involvement, if certain aspects are incorporated, they generally focus on Pierre Pflimlin, mayor of Strasbourg from 1959-1983, and long-term advocate of the city as European institution seat. They portray him as the only or most important local actor responsible for Strasbourg’s status as institution host. Pierre Pflimlin was a prolific political figure in French and European politics, but also an important local politician in Strasbourg.18 Among others, he was mayor ← 23 | 24 → of Strasbourg from 1959 to 1983.19 His importance and political influence in connection with consolidating Strasbourg’s position as seat is one of the few instances of local agency in Strasbourg that scholarship and biographies consistently acknowledge. These descriptions and analyses could be characterised as facilitating a myth of Pierre Pflimlin.

In one example, the analysis of the French stance during the first ECSC seat application round in 1952 includes the following, “Schuman was opposed to Paris, because it would have outraged Strasbourg and its mayor, Pflimlin.”20 Apart from the fact that local actors were reduced to the head of administration, this statement bore another common characteristic of how Pflimlin’s involvement was centralised in a way that a myth about his agency seems to have been created. Pflimlin only became mayor in March 1959, at the time of the initial attempt to site the institutions of the Schuman Plan; he was president of the departmental assembly, the Conseil Général du Bas-Rhin.21 Local archive sources from 1952 show that he strongly participated in local efforts during this period, but was not an executive member of the municipality. He did not participate as municipality actor during the entire debate how to facilitate the candidature for the single seat as the quote suggests. In contrast, the material from Strasbourg’s municipal archive displays a more nuanced situation. While Pflimlin was the representative of the city after he became mayor and chiefly communicated with actors outside of Strasbourg on its behalf, a host of actors was highly active behind the scenes. Since Pflimlin appeared to be the most visible one due to his position, his political activity towards consolidating Strasbourg’s seat position was likely reproduced in literature and mythicised.

In a similar manner to European integration history regarding the issue where to locate community institutions, scholarship on the CoE’s development does not devote much space if any to the question where to site it.22 As with European integration literature regarding the European Communities, such accounts tend to focus on policy issues, political ← 24 | 25 → developments and administrative structures. The concrete activity of physically locating its headquarters is only briefly covered and then only regarding the intergovernmental level, while omitting public or private actors on other political levels. This book aims to fill this lacuna by presenting a comprehensive case study of the various local actors in Strasbourg and their modes of activities.

Especially the municipal government of a (temporary) IO host city must have a vested interest in keeping them in the city, because it would benefit the city economically, among others. Additionally, the practical organisation of the functioning of international institutions must have been at least partly organised locally. Such questions of relations between supranational and local levels, interactions between international organisations and their host cities, have not been covered in European integration history literature either. These aspects form part of this book, since they all were related to local activities to consolidate the position as host for IOs.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (January)
Local activity in European integration history the relationship between European institutions and their hosts development in cities in response to international political institutions
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 330 pp., 12 graphs, 8 tables

Biographical notes

Claudia Leskien (Author)

Claudia Leskien holds a PhD in European Studies from Aarhus University. Her field of expertise comprises European integration history, international organisations, transnational politics and local political agency.


Title: Operation Welcome
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335 pages