Origin of the name
The name Bruegel, initially proposed by Mario Monti, can be understood as standing for Brussels European and Global Economic Laboratory. It was also chosen because of the extraordinary evocative potential and resonance of the artistic work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (the only one in the Bruegel/Breughel painters’ family who adopted this spelling of his name) with the think tank’s aims and identity.
Pieter Bruegel drew his inspiration from the keen observation of the life of ordinary people and daily economic activity, thus echoing Bruegel‘s concrete orientation and focus on facts-based research and analysis. He also embodied European diversity, having been born in the Netherlands, trained in Flanders and Italy, inspired by painters from Germany (such as Dürer) and elsewhere, before his 1569 death in Spanish-occupied and partly French-speaking Brussels. He lived in a Europe that was marked by disorder but also by intense exchanges across countries, an unprecedented opening to the world and questioning of long-accepted ideas: an era which, for Bruegel the think tank, acts as a stimulating source of inspiration.
The birth of a think-tank
The concept of Bruegel was initially developed jointly by two French economists, Jean Pisani-Ferry and Nicolas Véron, in the autumn of 2002. On 22 January 2003, the project was endorsed and officially floated by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in their joint declaration in Paris, marking the 40th anniversary of the De Gaulle-Adenauer Elysée Treaty. Item 30 of that declaration read:
”In order that Europe can make its full contribution to international debates on economic, financial and trade policy, and have a greater capacity for analysis and initiating proposals, thereby strengthening its position in these spheres, France and Germany have decided to launch a European initiative for the creation of a European centre for the international economy devoted to those objectives. This centre, which could be located in Brussels, should progressively be able to open up to all the European partners‚ member states, EU institutions and private-sector businesses.”
This short text included many of Bruegel’s features in embryonic form – its focus on economic policy, location in Brussels, potential inclusion of all EU member states and institutions as members, and private-sector stakeholders on an equal footing. Following this first formal step, the project made headway in stages through the years 2003 and 2004. This involved, first, a French-German project group which agreed on the overall concept and especially its governance framework (statute and bylaws); second, a negotiation with all EU member states, 12 of which (including initial sponsors France and Germany) eventually confirmed support in March 2004; and third, outreach by Pisani-Ferry and Véron to corporate entities, 17 of which became members by late 2004. Bruegel’s legal entity (temporarily named “European Centre for International Economics”) was registered as a Belgian Non-Profit International Association (AISBL) on 10 August 2004, and its first Board was elected by the founding state and corporate members in December 2004.
On 17 January 2005, Bruegel had its first Board meeting, in which Mario Monti was elected Chairman, Pisani-Ferry was appointed Director, and the name Bruegel was adopted (see below). In April 2005, it adopted a visual identity and logo, and moved to its current premises on rue de la Charité / Liefdadigheitstraat 33 in Brussels. In May, it held a first workshop (on productivity), and in June a first high-level conference (on trade). It published its first paper, authored by André Sapir on European Social Models, which was discussed at the informal ECOFIN Council meeting in Manchester on 9 September 2005. This established Bruegel’s reputation as a source of thought-provoking and authoritative policy analyses from the very inception.
Bruegel’s team has evolved over the years. Leszek Balcerowicz succeeded Monti as Chairman in mid-2008, and was himself succeeded by Jean-Claude Trichet in march 2012. In September 2020 Erkki Liikanen became current Chairman of Bruegel. In accordance with the term limitations enshrined in Bruegel’s statute, Jean Pisani-Ferry left the Director’s position in 2013 and was succeeded by Guntram Wolff. In 2015, Bruegel celebrated its first decade of operations and published a series of short essays by the key individuals who contributed to its early development.