Intercountry Committees have existed within Rotary for over 70 years when the first committee was created in Strasbourg.
In 1950, shortly after World War II, some German and French Rotarians met in Strasbourg with a goal of building peace and understanding. Marked by the war, they decided to use their intelligence to overcome the tragedy.
The aim was to renew friendly relations between Germany and France through Rotary and to reunite Rotarians who had been hard hit by two world wars. What resulted from their talks was Rotary’s first-ever Intercountry Committee, or ICC, with one goal in mind: reconciliation between their two countries.
For more than 70 years, similar committees have helped to expand Rotary service, carry out large-scale projects and take an active role in expanding peace.
Rotarians’ advocacy for peace
The ultimate goal in Rotary is the creation of more peaceful and resilient societies. We do this through the values that we hold, both ethical and cultural, and through the service and peacebuilding projects that we initiate. From a resolution before World War I calling for “peacekeeping” to our Rotary Centers, Rotary and its members have a long history of promoting peace and addressing the underlying causes of conflict in communities around the world.
In 1921, Rotary’s advocacy for peace really began. It was only a few years after the end of World War I. Rotarians wondered what Rotary could do to ensure that wars like the one we had just experienced would never happen again.
So at the International Convention in Edinburgh, England, the first Rotary International Convention held outside the United States, delegates incorporated a new purpose into the RI Constitution: “To advance peace and goodwill through fellowship among Rotarians united in the ideal of Rotary service.” Thus, “aiding in the advancement of peace” and international service became Rotary’s fourth Avenue of Service.
“Le Petit Comité France Allemagne”
In 1931, at a time when the old demons of nationalism were being revived throughout Europe, Past District Governors Otto Boehler (Rotary Club of Vienna D.73) and Georges Bernardot (Rotary Club of Paris D.49) created the “Petit comité Franco-Allemand” (Little Franco-German Committee) at the Rotary International Convention in Vienna, Austria, to promote peace and understanding between German and French Rotarians.
The committee ceased its activities at the end of 1937 due to the banning of German Rotary Clubs, then Austrian clubs by the Nazi government.
This small Franco-German committee was the forerunner of the Intercountry committees which I will talk about in a moment.
Birth of the first ICC
In 1950, the Governor of District 70 (which extended from Dunkirk to Strasbourg) Roger Coutant (Rotary Club of Lille) and the Past Governor Jean Caroni (Rotary Club of Lille) resume a difficult contact across the Rhine.
In Baden Baden (May 18, 1950) Robert Haussmann (Rotary Club of Stuttgart), the first German governor after the Second World War, organized the first post-war conference of his district.
Roger Coutant, accompanied by seven French Rotarians, spoke out in favor of restoring Franco-German relations.
Thus, on May 23, 1950 in Strasbourg, during the District 70 conference, Governors Robert Haussmann and Roger Coutant officially created the first Intercountry Committee between France and Germany. The idea was to launch an association of clubs with the goal of re-establishing international friendship and promoting peace.
On this memorable day, a resolution was also adopted by the 24 German Rotary Clubs condemning attacks and actions against “Human Rights”.
Robert Hausman said that day: “All Rotarians must be at the forefront of the ideal of peace“.
It was at this time in history that major international institutions such as the United Nations and UNESCO were established.
The year 1950 is not neutral, the long awaited international and inter-governmental institutions were really starting to function. These institutions capable of guaranteeing the expression of humanistic values, on which civilizations are based. They were also capable of establishing a climate of listening and solidarity between the populations of different nations.
“The United Nations and its agencies were created as a response to this immense concern, and the 51 founding states considered that they would ensure the conditions for peace and human development in the world in the long term. It is in this same spirit and with the same objective of raising awareness that French and German Rotarians established the first Intercountry Committee.” Past RI Vice-President Serge Gouteyron (2007-10 Chairman ICC Executive Council)
With this encouragement, Roger Coutant and Robert Haussman organized the first constitutive meeting of the Committee at the Hotel Harlas in Heidelberg. Rules of procedure were adopted. Other biannual and then annual meetings followed: Paris, Cologne, Marseille, Essen, Bordeaux…
One of the first objectives of the ICC France-Germany was to renew the contacts between the Clubs of the two countries. While the mourning and destruction of the war were still very close, it might have seemed foolhardy to hope to obtain a frank adhesion to this objective. It was not to trust the generosity, common sense, and intelligence of French and German Rotarians. The first “twin Club” relationship was established between Lille and Cologne.
Frank SPAIN, Rotary International President 1951-1952 helped financially the creation of Intercountry Committees in Europe and in particular the ICC France Germany.
After the charter of the Inter-Country Committees (ICC) between France and Germany in 1950, a whole network of Inter-Country Committees developed in Europe and throughout the world.
Over the years, these contacts have led clubs and districts to jointly participate in or carry out international projects such as what we previously called World Community Service projects, or today we simply call international service projects. Also, twin-clubs, sponsoring new clubs or simply by establishing informal international friendships.
Beginning with the twinning of clubs in different countries, international contacts among Rotarians increased in a spirit of tolerance and understanding.
Rotarians, clubs, and districts from two countries forming an Intercountry Committee soon realized that by working together on joint projects, projects, and initiatives, they could promote peace through better communication and mutual understanding.
By 1958, the successful development of the program, initially in Western Europe, necessitated a more structured organization, assigning the task of national coordination to a single contact person in each country, who reported to and represented the country in an annual meeting of the “Executive Council”. This was chaired alternately by one of them, assisted by a small team sharing the administrative tasks.
Assisting in the expansion of Rotary
Intercountry committees have also contributed to the development of Rotary over the past 30 years.
When the Berlin Wall fell, these committees took on another significant role, helping European Rotarians reach out to Poland, Russia and Ukraine in the early 1990s, which helped reintroduce Rotary to this part of the world.
French Rotarians formed ICCs with Poland, Russia, and Ukraine in the early 1990s, which helped reintroduce Rotary clubs in Poland and Ukraine and encourage the formation of the first Russian Rotary clubs after the fall of communism.
The ICCs have been a major factor in the expansion of Rotary in Eastern and Central Europe. Without their help, Rotary’s first steps into the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine would undoubtedly have been more difficult.
Rotary International President support
In the years following the creation of the ICCs, this initiative received the support of Rotary International. Several ICC conferences took place in Strasbourg with the participation of Rotary Interntional Presidents Frank Spain, Nitish Laharay , CDH Tenestra, Richard Evans, Bill Carter, Jack Davis, Mac Caffarey, Mat Capparas.
More recently, major international events focusing on ICCs with the RI president participation include the 1992 Presidential Salute to Inter-Country Relations in Montpellier with RI President Cliff Dochterman, the 2003 Presidential Conference in Antibes-Juan les Pins with RI President Jonathan Majiyagbe, the 2008 presidential conference “Peace is Possible” in Cannes with RI President Wilfrid J Wilkinson, the 2012 Rotary Global Peace Forum in Berlin with RI President Sakuji Tanaka, the 2015 Rotary Day at UNESCO with the theme “Building Peace with Rotary and UNESCO: Intercountry Committee Peace Initiative” with RI President Gary Huang.
2020-21 Rotary International President Holger Knaack envisioned to host a preconvention event during the RI Convention in Taipei to highlight the work of intercountry committees. At his request, the ICC Executive Council Chairman Cyril Noirtin prepared an event proposal which was reviewed and approved in concept by the Rotary International Convention Committee and the RI Board of Directors.
The event focused on three objectives:
• Raising awareness about Intercountry Committees and the tremendous peacebuilding opportunities that can be accomplished through these activities.
• Inspiring greater interest and participation in Intercountry Committees through examples of current successful relationships and their accomplishments.
• Providing an interactive networking opportunity to inspire new ICCs.
Due the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the Rotary Board of Directors made the decision to host the 2021 International Convention and the Preconvention meetings as virtual events.
The ICC Preconvention was transformed into a two-day virtual program (10-11 June 2021) offered in English and French.
Today Inter-Country Committees are active far beyond Europe. The more than 400 Inter-Country Committees in Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Oceania are active in initiating and supporting bilateral humanitarian engagements, promoting a spirit of mutual respect and aspiration to the ideal of peace, using all Rotary International programs and initiatives and giving priority to those that can pave the way for peace between countries and within the country itself.