Today's celebration at the University of Limerick is in honour of David Francis Williamson, Secretary General of the European Commission and an administrator responsible for carrying through some of its most notable policy initiatives of recent years.
After an illustrious career in the British Civil Service, David Williamson moved to the Commission of the European Communities in 1977 as Deputy Director General with responsibility for Agriculture. He returned to Britain in 1983 as Deputy Secretary and Head of the European Secretariat in the Cabinet Office of the British Government, then moved back to Brussels to his present post in 1987.
The vision of Europe that was consolidated by Jacques Delors, now continued by Jacques Santer, has depended on the calibre of its administrators. The rare combination of qualities possessed by David Williamson - loyalty, affability, intelligence and a devotion to duty - has given him a reputation in Europe that is unmatched. He is well aware that, in the words of Hugh Seton-Watson, The unity of European culture is simply the end-product of 3000 years of labour by our diverse ancestors. It is a heritage which we spurn at our peril, and of which it would be a crime to deprive younger and future generations. Rather it is our task to preserve and renew it (Hugh Seton-Watson, What is Europe, Where is Europe? From Mystique to Politique, Encounter, 65/2 July-August 1985, p. 17).
David Williamson's work on the First Delors package, which provided generous treatment for Ireland, the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and other major ratifications of the European ideal, has been widely admired. The hands-on approach pioneered by David Williamson during his time with the Community had led to an efficiency drive that has drastically reduced the mass of European law-making. Fifteen thousand Commission staff spread across twenty-three Directorates are under David Williamson's supervision, an awesome organisational task. Yet his is known to ensure that all relevant Commission documents bear his own signature and to personally scan the vast body of documentation that flows through the Secretary General's office.
The unassuming style of David Williamson, and his reputation as a friendly, communicative official have been a great boon in the building of European cooperation. His openness which includes an intolerance of waffle and gobbledygook has led to words such as transparency being banished from his Department.
For nineteen years David Williamson held a post in the British Ministry of Agriculture. Farming, like Europe, is a subject dear to the heart of Ireland. Jonathan Swift, a writer with dual allegiance to Britain and to Ireland, tells us that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together (Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Chapter 7). The earthy common-sense of this passage provides a key to understanding the talents that David Williamson has brought to the corridors of European administration. The organisation of the farming industry, a task that strides across the confines of art, economics, science and management, proved a fine background for dealing with the complex structure of the European Union.
David Williamson, with his comprehensive grasp of the critical issues, political sensitivities and detailed briefings that are part of the Secretary General's remit, has earned much praise from colleagues, officials and friends. His non-partisan approach is concealed beneath a British gift for reticence, resourcefulness and calmness in the management of change, crisis and community.
David Williamson was, as a younger man, noted for his prowess in long-distance running. The University of Limerick keenly hopes that David Williamson will continue his energetic and effective European journey for many years to come.