David Harley - a life inside EU politics

David Harley - a life inside EU politics

Over three decades notated inside 62 little red diaries, now available as a book, are a great legacy to modern European history and to the art of note-keeping.

David Harley first came to Luxembourg in 1975 as a translator, April Fool's Day as he fondly remembers. Through his life working within the European Union, he was Director of Press and Media, Spokesman of the President, Pat Cox (2002-2004), Secretary-General of the Socialist Group (2004-2007) and Deputy Secretary-General of the European Parliament, where he was responsible for overseeing the final adoption of EU legislation.

Throughout this time, David kept a record of European history as he witnessed it, living through it as a man 'in the shadows', a humble 'bag carrier and note-taker'. Of course, he was infinitely more than this; his humbleness cannot mask his intelligence, but adds to it. It's no wonder people like John Hume used to visit him weekly, 4pm on Monday afternoons in his Strasbourg office to be precise, to 'fire off his frustrations'. David is a made to whom one could talk in confidence, knowing the right moves would be had, the right conversations would take place 'upstairs' on their behalf.

David's diaries, now housed in the European University Institute in Florence, are dotted with anecdotes of leaders he's met: Blair, Schröder, Chirac, Berlusconi, to name but a few. He is interested in the contradictory nature of their characters. And his longevity to serve the European Union runs beyond many high-profile politicians, seeing the chain from one to the next, and how the trajectory of history waxes and wanes.

David talks about how the EU staggers from crisis to crisis, and yet has had some golden periods which he witnessed: the introduction of the single market and the Euro. And through all the hard periods, the EU is 'characterised by resilience'.

We talk about how the US views the EU, "The ignorance at the highest level of US politics of the EU is surprising." Whilst working at a consultancy in Brussels, David once hosted an American Ambassador in the EU for US-EU trade who observed: "In Palo Alto - the guys wake up and ask What am i going to innovate today? When people in Brussels wake up they say, What am I going to regulate today?"

On meeting David, I reflect on the time I interviewed Jean-Claude Junker. Both have a link with history that we are losing if we're not careful to learn it and reflect on its teachings. More and more, our MEPs, those working in the EU institutions will be younger, without any connection to the reasons behind why the EU was created. For all the flaws one may find, as David says, "The cause is worth it." It's no wonder that in 2011, David Harley was awarded a CMG for services to international diplomacy by Queen Elisabeth II.

Matters of Record - Inside European Politics - The Diaries of David Harley 1992-2010 can be purchased at Ernster in Luxembourg and also online.

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