In March 1996, Lord Weidenfeld of Chelsea convened at Spencer House a group of senior figures from business, politics, the media and academia in the three leading European nations – France, Germany and the UK – to discuss how to strengthen links between them and to better align their respective interests. It was very clear at the time that these three countries were not working as effectively together as they could.
The Franco-German alliance had formed an impressive central axis of European power and the UK had so far not been a part of it. Should the UK seek to join? Would Europe be more powerful if trilateralism was more effective? These were some of the questions for the group to explore during the first of three sessions. The late Lord Alexander of Weedon explained that the approach in this new forum would be sceptical, agnostic, enquiring, but not neutral. The focus of the second session was on the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Participants discussed the suitability of EMU for smaller economies, its political saleability and the question of the UK’s position. The final session addressed the 1996 EU Intergovernmental Conference and the debates around the shape and size of the EU.
This inaugural meeting of the Club of Three was well attended by some 45 senior figures. Among those taking part were: Lord Jenkins of Hillhead (then Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords); Lord Rothschild (Chairman of RIT Capital Partners); Hubert Burda (Founder and CEO, Hubert Burda Media); Peter Hartmann (then State Secretary, German Ministry of Foreign Affairs); and Jean Gueginou (then French Ambassador to the UK).