Isabelle Durant , a vice president of the European Parliament, spoke at Georgia Tech as part of Atlanta's 'Europe Day' celebration.

The Brussels Economic Conference this week highlights the tensions straining the cohesion of the European Union due to the individual debt problems of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Germany’s consul general in Atlanta, Lutz Goergens, went so far as to say during a panel discussion May 9 at the Georgia Institute of Technology that support for “states rights” among the EU’s 27 member states is even stronger than among the 50 U.S. states.

But about 200 Georgia Tech students got a good look at a European official who wants a far less nationalistic and more unified EU when they came to hear Isabelle Durant, one of 14 vice presidents of the European Parliament, speak at the university’s Le Craw Auditorium a week earlier.

Mrs. Durant was invited to Atlanta by the European Center of Excellence at Georgia Tech to participate in a series of events celebrating “Europe Day 2011” in honor of the Schuman Declaration on May 9, 1950, responsible for the first strides toward European integration.

Mrs. Durant belongs to the Spinelli Group named after Altiero Spinelli, one of the EU’s founding fathers along with Robert Schuman, that is composed of leading European politicians who seek to reinvigorate the drive for a more federalist, united Europe.

The group, which was founded last year, seeks a more united Europe through the establishment of a network of alliances of citizens, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, academics and politicians across the continent.

These include former leaders such as Jacques Delors, who served three terms as the president of the European Commission from 1985-94; Joschka Fischer, a former foreign minister and vice chancellor of Germany from 1998-2005 and current politicians such as Daniel Cohn Bendit, who was a student leader during the unrest of May 1968 in France and currently is co-president of the European Greens-European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament.

Mrs. Durant told GlobalAtlanta that she was only 14 years old during the political unrest of May 1968 in France, but she recalls walking with her father in the streets near the Sorbonne University in Paris where the skirmishes between the students and police were taking place.

Her father was a staunch supporter of then-French President Charles De Gaulle who opposed the student-led violence and its leaders such as Mr. Cohn-Bendit. As her own political views matured, however, she moved away from her father’s nationalistic viewpoint.

Both Mrs. Durant, who began her political career in 1980 as co-founder of  Belgium’s Ecolo Party, and Mr. Cohn-Bendit, who has had a varied and active career since his student days, are now fervent allies in their quest for a more unified Europe as members of the Spinelli Group.

“Nationalism is an ideology of the past. Our goal is a federal and post-national Europe, a Europe of the citizens,” reads an excerpt from the group’s manifesto.

Mrs. Durant currently is a senator in Belgium’s green, or pro-environmental sustainability, party allied with other green parties in Europe that are gaining strength in Germany, Belgium and the Nordic counties.

She said in her address that she would like Europe to speak “with one voice,” meaning that Europe’s citizens should eventually elect a president for the European Union as a whole.

In the meantime, she advocates the so-called “communal method,” which seeks enhanced cooperation between the 27 states of the union by shifting the power from the separate governments to the supranational institutions such as the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.

She also said that she is a fervent supporter of the Lisbon Treaty, which was adopted in 2007, and created the post of a European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is in charge of an “external action service,” which is essentially a diplomatic corps of the EU.

As the economic conference struggles with the sovereign debt issues of Greece and others, the Spinelli Group remains steadfastly supportive of the euro.

In response to a question from a Georgia Tech student, Mrs. Durant said that she fully backs the euro and would disapprove of any attempt to have any member of the euro zone evicted.

Mrs. Durant also spoke at the World Trade Center Atlanta during her visit to Atlanta as part of a series of Europe Day activities including a workshop for educators and a roundtable discussion with local European diplomats organized by the European Union Center of Excellence.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO, spoke at a World Affairs Council of Atlanta luncheon, as part of the Europe Day activities.

To learn about more activities of the European Center of Excellence, go to

Go here to read GlobalAtlanta’s article about the May 9 panel discussion.

Go here to read GlobalAtlanta’s  interview with Mr. Rasmussen.