By Brian Beary, Contributing Editor European Affairs
“Jean-Luc was not only a friend but a terrific colleague,” said Institute President Joelle Attinger, speaking of Jean-Luc Robert, who died recently. “He fully believed in the European Project, and even more so, in the pivotal role that the Parliament plays in bridging the democratic deficit between the European electorate and the EU's institutions. To that end, he paid political ideology little mind. What mattered to Jean-Luc was getting the best of the Parliament before policymakers in Washington so the latter could better appreciate the caliber of the EU's legislative branch and gain fuller understanding of how and why it was approaching policy issues in the manner it was.”
His former boss Antoine Ripoll, Head of EPLO, added “Jean-Luc was fascinated by the great intellectual life of Washington. He developed a lot of strong personal relationships, especially among academics, and also travelled around the U.S. giving talks,” said Ripoll.
Keen to foment exchanges of ideas and cultures, Jean-Luc set up and managed an internship program at EPLO to give young Americans a chance to learn what Parliament does and represents. And he put in place fellowships through which U.S. Congressional staffers spend a couple of weeks at the EU institutions and Parliament officials conduct research and develop networks at U.S. think-tanks and academic institutions.
His wife Aude Jehan-Robert, a French national, explained how their love affair first brought him to Washington. “I was getting my doctorate in New York. When Jean-Luc saw the position at EPLO advertised, he decided to go for it so we could be together. He never dreamed that he would be picked.” An academic herself who often attended events with Jean-Luc, she said “people always worry about the latest crisis Europe is experiencing. Jean-Luc felt that each crisis was an opportunity for Europe to grow stronger. He noted that the European Union grew out of the ashes of World War II, the biggest crisis of all.”
A Belgian national and longtime resident of Brussels, Jean-Luc began his career in the Parliament in the mid-1980s, working on human rights issues for the Italian Radicals party. He later went on to become part of the Greens group in Parliament. A thinker and activist, Jean-Luc travelled to Czechoslovakia when it was behind the Iron Curtain to push for democracy and on another occasion, went on hunger strike. “He was very attached to a more integrated Europe,” said Ripoll. “These days he was a bit sad to see the lack of will among EU member states to further integrate on immigration. But he remained optimistic,” said Ripoll.
At The European Institute, we quickly came to appreciate his personal qualities of patience, discretion, sincerity, unflappability and understanding. It is common to say that it was a pleasure working with someone, but that was never truer than with Jean-Luc and pleasure is not a strong enough word. In a town where diplomats come and go so quickly, he was a steady and dependable presence, an institutional memory who in his own quiet way, made great strides in putting the work of Parliament on the radar in Washington. He would bring his humor to the most complicated situations and was unwaveringly upbeat, even when things were not going our way. And he was usually right – things had a habit of working out for the best.
We leave the last word to Jean-Luc, who wrote on his personal LinkedIn page: “More than ever, my motivation is the European project. The construction of Europe remains an exciting evolution. The logical consequence of this commitment is to contribute to an increasingly integrated transatlantic relationship. The EU and U.S. are in ninety-nine percent agreement. Unfortunately, the media usually only address the one percent of disagreement.”
A funeral service for Jean-Luc Robert was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington DC on March 18 and a commemorative mass on March 19 in Soignies, Belgium, the town where Jean-Luc grew up. If you wish to honor his memory, his wife Aude asks that you plant a tree in his name in a designated U.S. forest, through A Living Tribute.