Founded in 1946 by Paul Van Zeeland (Belgium), Josef Retinger (Poland) and Pieter Kerstens (Netherlands) - who were rapidly joined by other European figures including Edmond Giscard d'Estaing (France), Harold Butler (Great Britain) and Herman Abs (Germany) -, the European League for Economic Cooperation celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2011.
It has never been a mass movement, although it was present at The Hague in 1948 among the founding organisations of the European Movement (). Nor is it a lobby defending the interests of a given sector or particular profession, nor yet a think-tank capable of mobilising teams of researchers. ELEC could be described as an "intellectual pressure group" in the service of the European project, anxious to carry out its mission in complete independence of private interests or the public authorities. This mission includes the European education of its members by circulating information among them and by organising debates on the great European themes.
ELEC's members, in the countries of Europe in which it is currently represented, mainly come from the economic and financial world, but they also include senior national and European officials, and people from academic and political backgrounds. Together, they form a European network with significant expertise and influence. ELEC thus has advisory status at the Council of Europe and on the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
To be sure, Europe today has a variety of clubs, associations and groups pursuing similar aims. ELEC stands out because of the very diverse nature of its membership, the wide range of their interests, and a particular concern for independence in formulating their opinions. This gives its internal debates an openness and frankness which participants find intellectually stimulating, even if unanimous agreement is sometimes difficult to achieve. But it is this diversity and independence that prompts ELEC to ask the right questions and, in the answers it provides, to give priority to the common European interest.