by Prof. Dr. Anton van der Geld on the ‘Foundation BeNeLux-University‘ guided by his motto: ‘living by the power of imagination and renewal’

The Benelux Union is celebrating its 60th anniversary, at the same moment the ‘Foundation BeNeLux-University‘ (in Dutch: ‘BeNeLux-Universitair Centrum’ or ‘B.U.C.’) celebrates its 30th anniversary. In the Foundation’s coat of arms — next to its name and the description of ‘BeNeLux Study Center’ — a representation can be found of ‘Psyche’ and of the ‘Book of Wisdom’, with earthly and heavenly blue colors according to its artistic design. This is also referring to the harmony between mind, feelings and emotions necessary in all human life and work.

This coat of arms also contains the words Scientiae et Artibus: ‘For Science and Arts’. Diplomatic World sat together with Professor Dr. Anton van der Geld, Founder and President of the Foundation BeNeLux-University, and invited him to tell us the story of his crucial Foundation.

“I have always had a deep interest in Belgium, as I originate from and am still living in the South of the Netherlands, around ’s-Hertogenbosch. I studied at the Universities of Utrecht, Tilburg and Leuven, completing three studies.

In the eighties I was appointed at the University of Leuven. I have always been deeply interested in the cooperation between Belgium and the Netherlands, and automatically also Luxembourg. I also participated in a few culture and art societies. In Leuven this involvement became only stronger. During these years I also met the eminent Professor Mark Eyskens, still Minister of Foreign Affairs around that time. We were both professor with a special status, being only one day a week at the University of Leuven, and there we further strengthened our acquaintance by a continuous collaboration and

So I have always had a deep interest in the Benelux cooperation and then the idea rose to give it a special impulse by founding an independent institute to promote cultural, educational and scientific collaboration. Several contacts and conversations contributed to my idea of a university center. I discussed with the first Minister-President of Flanders (after the first Belgian state reform) Dr. Gaston Geens, who I knew well, and with Brussels ‘Secretary of State’ Dr. Vic Anciaux, who was also a medical professional. In the Netherlands I often discussed my ideas with Professor Piet Steenkamp, President of the Senate, and with the Dutch Ambassador to the USA, residing in Washington DC. And this was the beginning of the Foundation BeNeLux-University for education, science, culture and humanity in Europe. And with these advisers the Foundation was safe.

Also my wife, Cily Nouwens was very collaborative in this process and active inside the Foundation. In addition, our three children, Pieter, Lucienne and Christian, have been active as volunteers for the Foundation from the start and still are actively participating on a voluntary basis. My son Pieter, a dentist and psychologist, is my intended successor as President of the Board of the Foundation.

After the death of Cily we have founded and named a foundation in remembrance of her: the ‘Foundation Cily van der Geld-Nouwens Fund’ advancing the (re)humanization of society (in Dutch: ‘Stichting Cily van der Geld-Nouwens Fonds’). Further information on this foundation can be found on the website of the Foundation BeNeLux-University (note of Diplomatic World: the website is stated at the end of the Professor’s statement).

Thus we intended to give a special and concrete impulse to the cooperation and friendship between the three Benelux countries: not just doing something, but establishing a content and focusing on a practical contribution. Two pillars were therefore established. The first pillar was social-cultural and focused on humanity: we planned to organize meetings and symposia, in order to bring different societies from the three countries together. The second pillar was educational and academic: we planned to target specific groups in the Benelux: the group of medical professionals, the group of police and juridical professionals and the group of management administrators, teachers and policy advisors. Our related intention and goal was to provide these groups of professionals in Foundation BeNeLux-University with complementary, common trainings and educations and promotion of expertise.

So we created three Course Locations: we started at the University of Antwerp, the University of Eindhoven and the University — still a Center at that time — of Luxembourg. The most remarkable aspect of our trainings was bringing together, in correspondence with the subject of the training, the specialists on this specific subject from the Netherlands and Belgium in a study group. They received education and formation on a specific subject, part-time during one or more years. In this way we created rapprochement and cooperation in the Benelux through the collaboration of these groups of professionals in a specific field.

These courses worked indeed very well in our view: we organized even Master courses. In the course rooms professionals from Belgium and the Netherlands were sitting next to each other. So we created Benelux cooperation and friendship amongst these professionals as a sustainable rapprochement at the basis. It is remarkable how regularly and how intensively former course participants have found in this way the path towards more professional cooperation and also friendship in the Benelux countries.

Our efforts in the Benelux did not go unnoticed. Contacts also arose with the Royal Families of Belgium and the Netherlands. At the official visit of the incoming Crown Prince Filip, the Governor of North Brabant, Mr. Frank Houben, asked me to give a speech to Prince Filip on the occasion of his acceptance of the title of new Duke of Brabant.

In 2006, Princess Astrid of Belgium presented together with me the ‘BeNeLux-Europe Prize’ (In Dutch: BeNeLux-Europa Prijs) to Honorary Ministers Jacques Santer and Bernard Bot. In 2005 I presented the ‘BeNeLux-Europe Prize’ to Professor Pieter van Vollenhoven, member of the Dutch Royal Family, together with our Counselor the Belgian Prince Charles-Louis de Merode. Prof. Pieter van Vollenhoven also joined our Foundation as a Patron, followed a few years later by Princess Lea of ​​Belgium as Patroness. Count Herman Van Rompuy is also Patron of
the Foundation BeNeLux-University.

Awarding the ‘BeNeLux-Europe Prize’ has undeniably become an important event. The Prize is awarded to persons or institutions that have performed exceptionally well for Benelux cooperation and Benelux friendship. This year we presented the Prize in the City Hall of Eindhoven to the Belgian Ambassador H.E. Chris Hoornaert, the Dutch Ambassador H.E. Maryem van den Heuvel and the Luxembourg Ambassador H.E. Jean-Marc Hoscheit.

Previous recipients of this Prize were amongst others Jean-Claude Juncker, Herman Van Rompuy, Pieter van Vollenhoven, Jan Peter Balkenende, Guy Verhofstadt, Willem van Eekelen, Marianne Thyssen, Maria van der Hoeven, Lydie Polfer, Neelie Kroes, Herman De Croo, Frits Korthals Altes, Viviane Reding, Bernard Wientjes, Piet Hein Donner, Kris Peeters, Frans Timmermans.

In the City Hall of Eindhoven Dutch and Belgian Justice and Police professionals received this year also their postgraduate certificate of our Foundation BeNeLux Study Center. During an entire year they followed the same courses and worked closely together in the course rooms. And then you see what the final results are, then you see the output. These courses had truly great consequences in practice.

When we just started, there was actually little direct and personal contact between the Police and Justice professionals from the Netherlands and those from Belgium. I can still remember the time when the Attorney General of Antwerp had almost no personal contact with the Attorney General in ’s-Hertogenbosch. In this perspective, we have been collaborative. In recent years smooth cooperation between the Police and Justice professionals in the Netherlands and in Belgium is perceived as normal, but at the beginning of the Foundation BeNeLux-University this was not always the case.

Let us go back to the beginning of our Foundation: the organization and teaching of Post-graduate and Master classes. We have organized many Master courses, according to the Anglo-Saxon system, in collaboration with several American and British Universities, until the moment the Universities in the Benelux picked up these Master’s Degree programs after the Bologna Declaration. We therefore decided to focus on other forms of Post-graduate education and on a few practice-based chairs.

We were able to make many people enthusiastic, also Minister of State Mark Eyskens, Prince Charles-Louis de Merode, former Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and other prominent persons. The Foundation has also evolved in a very personal way, because it has no external funding.

We are (working) independent, self-supporting and partly pro deo. We only receive humble revenues from the courses, and we are keeping these course fees intentionally low. It is more important to bring various professionals together to help them advance in their area of expertise than to make profit.

We were also able to establish in the Foundation BeNeLux-University Center a pleasant and work friendly context, in which at a certain time more than seventy professors from the Benelux were welcomed. They come regularly to us for teaching a specific course and are enjoying the absence of possible tensions and the presence of a more democratic model.

They all chose for a collegial community with the President of the Foundation as team leader. From there I have always been confronted with a kind of difficulty: I am not only the President of the Board of the Foundation, but also in a way the Rector. The affiliated professors and participants expressed the wish to combine these functions. This makes it possible for them to have a personal and direct line with the Foundation. This combination of two functions creates a heavy workload.

Our Foundation has various activities in the three countries, which have also evolved over the years. In this way the accents have been shifted over time. The creation and installation of a special Chair for ‘Society and Culture’ in the Benelux countries played an important role in this.

I founded this Chair in 1994 and offered it to the Benelux Parliament, meeting in the ‘Ridderzaal’ (Knights Hall) in The Hague. It is a partnership between our Foundation and the Benelux Parliament. Minister of State Mark Eyskens is the main titular. The chair is installed separately in the three countries, likewise in Luxembourg during the ceremony there in 1995.

Since many years, courses for doctors are being held in Luxembourg to specialize further in the fields of Gerontology and Alzheimer. Therefore a special agreement has been concluded between the Luxembourg Government and our Foundation. In Luxembourg, we were allowed to play a constructive role, helping the Center to evolve into a full-scale University, with the assistance of the University
of Trier.

We organized a beautiful event at this occasion, in the presence of the Government of Luxembourg and with a large media attention. At this occasion we awarded also the distinction of the BeNeLux-Europe Prize to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the Minister of Education, Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, and the Minister of Social Security, Marie-Josée Jacobs. These courses in Luxembourg are still running. We have, as previously said, an agreement with the Luxembourg State, with two Ministers: they organize the administration and the finances, which is for us welcome, because we don’t have a large staff. In Belgium and the Netherlands we have been focusing on the fields of Police, Justice and Public Administration, over the past years.

In Belgium, there was till recently a course on psychotherapy, for the further training of doctors and psychologists. There is also a Chair for ‘Man and Labor’. After a short interruption, I am for the Foundation strongly active again in the fields of ‘people, labor and sustainability’. We still have many ideas and plans. There is also the Chair for ‘Army and Society’.

Our Chairs are strongly focusing on the practice. Therefore we are describing these Chairs also as practice chairs, in contrast to the universities with the capacities to start large and fundamental researches. This is not possible for us: as a study center, we are focusing on the research and the development of the practice, of professional fields.

In practice, many professionals and supervisors scarcely come to the human aspects. How to act in the light of human dignity, is the central question. Precisely in this time, this is an important aspect. The ‘B.U.C.’ offers trainings and education to ‚people counselors‘ who work in various locations in the Benelux. ‘People counseling’ (coaching) is a separate course in which good communication plays an essential role. This course combines applied humanities, cultural knowledge and human values.

Modern techniques and science lift our society to an even higher level: the intervention in life becomes reality and the ‚makeable‘ man comes into view. That sounds maybe nice, but are we on the way to a reality in which man can sometimes no longer recognize himself? There is a growing need for attention for the human aspect in work and development, in life and in death. It is an appreciation for diversity in civilizations.

There we intend to make a considerable contribution to the well-being of the society in the Benelux, through ‘imaginative power and renewal’ quoting the motto of the Foundation BeNeLux-University or ‘B.U.C.’ and my personal motto also. The ‘B.U.C.’ has four pillars: permanent education is the first pillar, helping to educate people personally and in a continuous way. The other three pillars are related to a certain inspiration from out of which we can achieve this education: science, culture and humanity. We intend to distinguish ourselves by the inspiration coming from these three pillars, in order to influence society and people positively and take the best decision about our actions and aspirations.

Working from this idea a truly imaginative power can be built up, which allows us to achieve renewal in many fields. The society is rapidly changing and there are various new problems. Now it is the challenge to focus our attention on these changes and problems and find humane solutions.
We have to renew society in many fields. And therefore we need imaginative power that will bring the necessary renewal leading to even stronger imaginative power in practice: both are needed and are inseparably connected in my view. This philosophy is at the heart of the Foundation BeNeLux-University.“

The Foundation’s mission is about the human values of humanity, well-being, love and happiness, giving priority to cultural optimism. In this context, several inspiring books have been published by Prof. Anton van der Geld: ‚Your life is yours‘, ‚Balance in our life‘, ‚Your lifestyle from heart and soul‘. At the moment he is working on his 10th book about ‚Inspiration and the Art of Living‘. Health, well-being and happiness in life are of utmost importance to everyone.

Prof. Dr. Anton van der Geld received three Royal Honors in the Benelux in recognition of his meritorious services: Great Officer in the Leopold Order (Belgium), Knight in
the Dutch Lion (the Netherlands) and Commander in the
Oak Crown (Luxembourg).