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The Nieuwkapelle family

Johan Willem Beyen, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Growing up in Bilthoven and Utrecht

Johan Willem Beyen (7.2) was born in 1897 in Utrecht as a son of Karel Hendrik Beijen, who was later on the secretary of the State Railways, and Louisa Maria Coenen, who was descended from a family of musicians.
Johan Willem was called Wim by his friends. His official surname was Beijen, but he usually wrote his surname as Beyen because he thought this name was more appropriate for his international connections.

Wim Beyen grew up in Utrecht and the neighbouring town of Bilthoven. In later years he described his youth in 'De zin van het nutteloze. Rarekiek van de 19e eeuwse jaren der 20ste eeuw' (The sense of the useless. Peepshow of the 19th century years of the 20th century). In this book he reviewed his schools, his student years, the professors, the First World War and his days as a conscript in the army. He showed that the society in those years differed from that in later times in many aspects. In his opinion the nineteenth century in the Netherlands had only come to an end after the failed revolution of Troelstra in November 1918.

Successful careers

For Wim Beyen himself November 1918 was the beginning of a new era as well: his professional life. Two days after he had received his Ph.D. from the Law Faculty of Utrecht University he was engaged as a temporary assistant clerk at the Ministry of Finance. At that time he was only 21 years old. Within a few years he rose to the rank of Deputy Treasurer.

In 1924 he moved to the private sector. After a short time as secretary of the board of Philips in Eindhoven he was appointed in 1925 head of the Dutch branch of the Javasche Bank, the central bank of the Netherlands East Indies. At the same time he was the driving force behind the merger of a number of distressed banks for medium-sized and small enterprises. In 1927, just before his 30th birthday, he was appointed Director of what later became the Rotterdamsche Bank. He was a member of the boards of commissioners of Philips, KLM and other companies. In 1935 he was Vice President and in 1937 President of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel. In the beginning of 1940 he was appointed Director of Unilever.

In May 1940, when Germany invaded the Netherlands, Wim Beyen was abroad. He did not return to the Netherlands, but settled in London. In addition to his position at Unilever he was financial advisor to the Dutch government in exile. In 1944 he played an important role during the conference in Bretton Woods where the foundations were laid for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. From 1946 he was the Dutch representative in the board of the World Bank and from 1948 also in that of the IMF.

Minister of Foreign Affairs

In 1952 Wim Beyen was asked to be a minister in the third cabinet of Willem Drees, formed by Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties. When the cabinet had to be formed, it was difficult to find a good balance between the parties in the foreign affairs sector. Eventually, an agreement was reached on a unique construction: Wim Beyen, who did not belong to a political party, was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Joseph Luns, a member of the Catholic party, was Minister without portfolio in the same Ministry. One of the jokes about this construction was "The Netherlands is so small, and therefore their foreign countries altogether are so large, that one Minister of Foreign Affairs is not enough."
Drees, who was not a strong supporter of European integration, hoped that Wim Beyen would form a counterweight against the proponents of a more intensive cooperation. This turned out to be a big mistake. During his term Wim came under the spell of the European idea.
From left to right the ministers Bech (Luxembourg), Beyen (Netherlands) and Spaak (Belgium)  
With full commitment of his great intellectual gifts he played an important and maybe decisive role in the realization of the European cooperation.
Upon his appointment as minister the plans for cooperation were at an impasse. Of course political integration turned to encounter all sorts of sensitivities. Wim Beyen succeeded in convincing his colleagues abroad and in the Dutch government that it was important to start with economic cooperation and that political cooperation would follow. This vision proved to be right.
The conference of ministers in Messina in 1955 was an important milestone. On the proposal of Wim Beyen and his Belgian colleague Paul-Henri Spaak the arrangements were made that two years later would lead to the Treaty of Rome. This treaty was the birth certificate of the European Economic Community and the later European Union. Without Wim's commitment this would not have been possible.

His later years

  In 1968 Wim Beyen presented his memoirs 'Het spel en de knikkers' to Prince Bernhard.
After four years, when a new cabinet had to be formed, Wim's time as a minister came to an end. In his memoirs he said that in 1956 a minister without a party was no longer a value on the political chessboard. But even if he would have been asked for a second term, he would not have accepted: he was no longer willing to be responsibile for the New Guinea policy of his colleague Luns.
Maybe there was another relevant factor: in the struggle between Queen Juliana and her husband Prince Bernhard about the faith healer Greet Hofmans, Wim Beyen was clearly on Bernhard's side.
From 1958 to 1963 he was the Dutch ambassador in Paris. From 1963 to 1968 he was the president of the board of commissioners of the Rotterdamse Bank and (after the merger with the Amsterdamse Bank) the AMRO Bank.
Wim Beyen died in 1976.

An important biography

On October 12, 2005 Wim Weenink, editor of the newspaper NRC Handelsblad, took his doctor's degree at the University of Leiden with an important biographical study about Wim Beyen. The title of his book is Bankier van de wereld. Bouwer van Europa. Johan Willem Beyen 1897-1976 (Banker of the world. Builder of Europe. Johan Willem Beyen 1897-1976).

In his thesis Weenink studied the question why Wim Beyen, who in his opinion was a pragmatist and a distant intellectual, was yet so caught up by the European integration that it became his main dedication as a minister. For a good insight Weenink did not limit himself to the political life of his subject. He studied and described Wim Beyen's whole personal development, from his early childhood until his death, at almost 79 years of age.

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