Obituary: Pierre Uri
Friday 24 July 1992
PIERRE URI was one of the most influential of the academic 'technocrats' who crossed and recrossed the boundaries between politics, administration and the academic world. He was a backstage influence of the first importance in the rebuilding of France and the creation of European institutions after the war and it was without hyperbole that President Francois Mitterrand referred to him as one of the builders of Europe.
Pierre Uri was born in 1911 in the fifth Arrondissement of Paris. His father was a secretary of the faculty of letters and Uri was educated at the Lycee Henri IV, the Ecole Normale Superieur, the law faculty in Paris and at Princeton University. He was professor of philosophy in Reims from 1936 but was called up for war service in 1940. Vichy anti-semitic laws deprived him of his teaching post and he turned to research in economics.
After the war he won a reputation with a series of articles in Sartre's Les Temps Modernes and was made professor of economics at the National School of Public Administration (1947-51). He also worked on the 1949 United Nations for Employment Commission. Jean Monnet admired his skills and brought him to the Planning Commissariat in 1947 as financial adviser to study the means of French reconstruction. He was the rapporteur of the plan's influential 'balance-sheet' for the nation which was published in December 1947.
In 1950 Monnet asked him to help develop the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). In this he played an 'outstanding part' particularly in economics, in the Schuman declaration, the memorandum for the negotiations and in the treaty itself. He quickly realised the incompatibility of British and Continental agriculture interests. He followed Monnet to become Economic Director of the High Authority of the ECSC and worked on a balance-sheet for the ECSC.
Uri was a federalist and a proponent of the widened general common market on the base of the ECSC as a means of a united Europe. He joined the Belgian Paul-Henri Spaak to relaunch European initiatives after the failure of the European Defence Community. Uri and the American economist Robert Triffin, at Monnet's instigation, drew up the European monetary system blueprint and this was implicit in the subsequent 'Spaak report', of which Uri was the main author and on which the Rome treaties were based. He helped in the negotiation of the Rome treaty and joined Monnet's 'Action Committee' for Europe and was economic adviser to the EEC Commission. He then went to the Lehman Brothers bank as a director, from 1959 to 1961.
Uri continued to be active in European politics and wrote prolifically: on Europe (in its many aspects), the Third World, education and technical economics as well as serving as a regular columnist for the Le Monde. At the same time he was active on the French Left. He organised the famous 'Diner d'Alma' of January 1962 which brought together the leaders of the opposition parties with a view to an alternative government after the departure of de Gaulle. He was influential in the rebuilding of the non-Communist left and was briefly a member of Mitterrand's 'shadow cabinet'. By 1969 he was again a professor of economics (in Paris Dauphine University) and still politically active briefly with the centrists and then with Mitterrand as a socialist economic adviser. He remained close to Mitterrand's supporters and was part of a socialist economic team in the 1981 elections and continued to advise the Elysee thereafter.
Uri was a man without a trace of self-doubt and had the ability to cut through tangled arguments which made him an admired if formidable academic and negotiating figure. Jean Monnet, who appreciated his abilities, noted that his intellectual fireworks had to be dampened down to make them less dazzling but more convincing.
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