The obituaries of Roy Jenkins were so long and effusive that every aspect of an extraordinarily rich life seemed to have been covered. In fact, however, one of the most important of his contributions to public service received relatively little attention. His period as President of the European Commission between 1977 and 1981 was distinguished and, in one respect, of long–lasting significance. At the time – a period bridging the end of Labour's Callaghan government and the arrival of Margaret Thatcher on the scene – what was happening in Brussels was of relatively little interest as the European community was thought of primarily as a common market.

Nowadays the European Commission is regarded as a regulatory organisation, issuing directives and monitoring national performance. But it has always had a responsibility as a high–level think tank, making proposals for the future development of the association for national minisers to consider. In 1977, fulfilling this function, Roy Jenkins made a speech in Florence which looked a long way forward; what he proposed became, first, the European Monetary System and, more recently, the European single currency – the euro. He was able to do this with confidence because of his own exceptional intellectual qualities and his experience in Britain as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It cannot be said that the more recent occupants of the post of President of the European Commission have lived up to Lord Jenkins' outstanding qualities. His death should remind us of the need for politicians of the highest calibre to serve in Brussels – not compromise candidates.