The UK Section celebrated its 40th birthday with a party on 30 October 2008, organised jointly with the Foreign Press Association, whose 120th birthday also fell that year.
Roger Broad, a founder member of the British Section of the AEJ, recalled its birth:
In 1968 Britain’s second attempt to join the European Community had failed. But les événements in France that summer suggested that de Gaulle’s time was drawing to a close and the way might soon be free for a successful new bid for membership. So it proved.
At the time I was the European Commission’s press officer in London, and that autumn I attended a seminar on European affairs organised by the Federal Trust. There I met Günter Wagenlehner, a German journalist, who said that the annual congress of the Association of European Journalists was to be held shortly and that he would like to see some journalists from Britain there. Later, at very short notice, I was asked if I could bring three journalists over to Bad Hoennigen, near Bonn, early in December for the Congress. Paul Hodgson, then with Panorama at the BBC, Maurice Woods, London Editor of the Eastern Daily Press, and Stephen Hugh-Jones of The Economist were able to come.
The Rhineland was extremely cold and we were scattered round different small hotels in the small spa town. We also had our first taste of the characteristic displays of rival temperament that tend to mark such gatherings of European journalists from many different nations. We four Britons were admitted as individual members and it was suggested that we should form a British Section.
In Bad Hoennigen we also met Ezio Bacino, an Italian journalist living in London. Early in the New Year we met up, together with a couple of other potential members. We decided to form a luncheon club for meetings with movers and shakers from the political world and others with something of interest to say about Europe. Our first guest was Ted Heath, then Leader of the Opposition, who brought along his political assistant, one Douglas Hurd.
Since then the UK Section has had its ups and downs but on the whole, it has thrived. The peak of our youthful vigour was probably reached in the early 1970s, when British membership of the Community was a burning political issue. At that time our Section’s membership reached something like 70, which meant that we regularly attracted some 30 members around the table for the lunch meetings. For many years our meetings were held at the St Ermin’s Hotel in London.
The UK Section was founded on the basic principles of political and economic independence. The succeeding years saw AEJ congresses in Bordeaux, Luxembourg, Rome and, in 1971, Bristol – with a final session and a glittering reception in Carlton House in London, hosted by Ted Heath, who was by then Prime Minister. It was another 20 years before we gathered the energy and funds to organise another.
At the AEJ’s London Congress in 1992, we housed most of the delegates at the St Ermin’s Hotel, with the formal meetings being held in the QEII conference centre. The event was a resounding success.
Paul Hodgson served several years as International Chairman. At home, Maurice Woods was our first chairman, with myself as secretary and treasurer until the mid-1970s, when I felt my own position with the Commission and later the Parliament risked the Section being seen as a Brussels satellite. Don Hatwell took over at first. In later years, as many members well remember, Kevin d’Arcy took over for the running of the Section for an extended time, with Paul Hodgson fils as Chairman. Happily, the Section now finds itself once more in good heart, with a healthy membership of more than 40. Some older companions have inevitably fallen by the wayside down the years or died.
There is plenty of enthusiasm among members now for the Section to mark its 40th birthday towards the end of this year in some special way. The best present of all, I venture to say, would be to have a Prime Minister today with the same kind of enthusiasm and regard for the AEJ’s activities and role as Ted Heath showed in the years of our infancy.
Roger Broad, October 2008