Second only to Jean Monnet, Emile Noël could claim to have been a founding father of the European Union. Not that it was a claim he would ever have advanced himself. Every inch the fonctionnaire, Noel had discretion built into his soul.
His impassive qualities were greatly valued in the Berlaymont Building — not least by the British when they first joined the Community in 1973. He was the master of the flexible minute in which subjunctives surfaced in nearly every sentence. Whether for that reason or not, it was often he who came up with the formula that solved difficulties. (His English never ceased to be a source of wonder to his UK colleagues — though he appeared to speak it in a very broken form, he in fact had a remarkable grasp on all the language’s subtleties and nuances.)
Although by nature and even appearance Gallic to the core, he perhaps succeeded better than any other member of the Commission’s staff in being a true European. He was the product, of course, of a generation that had seen two successive wars break out on the continent of Europe, and one of the very few things he had difficulty in understanding about the British was their reluctance to accept that the age of the unbridled nation state was over and done with.
Probably the recognition of the European ethos in which he took the greatest pride was the achievement — much of it was due to his own delicate diplomacy — in getting the President of the Commission to be present (ultimately as of right) at all Heads of Government summits.
On August 24, 1996 Emile Noël passed away in Viareggio, Italy. The following are excerpts from two obituaries in the London Independent and Times following his death.