European Union External Action

Ventotene – Remarks by HR/VP Josep Borrell at the 80th anniversary of the Ventotene Manifesto

Brussels, 29/08/2021 - 14:51, UNIQUE ID: 211012_14
HR/VP speeches

29/08/2021 - In his speech, Josep Borrell underlines the historical importance and the contemporary relevance of the Ventotene Manifesto. We should draw inspiration from that visionary document, to build a strong EU foreign policy, as our citizens demand.


I am glad to be back in Ventotene. I was here before, in 2014 to speak at the closing session of this annual international seminar on federalism. This place carries a special, symbolic meaning for me and for everything I stand for politically: European integration, federalism, anti-fascism, democracy and international solidarity.

These days, a lot of politics is based on tribal dynamics. Maybe this is not always good or helpful to forge compromises. But if there is a political tribe to which I belong, then this is it: the one that fights for a strong Europe as an anti-dote to nationalism and as the only way for Europeans to achieve our common goals and defend our European model of solidarity, prosperity and freedom.

So it feels good to be back here and to debate the next steps for Europe’s global role with all of you.

Building a stronger EU foreign policy – lessons from the Ventotene Manifesto

In foreign policy it has been yet another ‘Summer of crises’ (Afghanistan, Belarus, Lebanon etc). They have kept me busy as we are trying to handle all the consequences for Europeans and local populations alike.

If we zoom out from individual countries and look at the whole board, it is clear that strengthening Europe’s foreign policy, is both the most urgent task the EU faces. But it is perhaps also the area where the obstacles are greatest.

The idea that Europeans can only make a difference in the world by acting together has an intrinsic plausibility. Indeed the famous Ventotene Manifesto of 1941 already called for a single EU foreign and defence policy! Indeed, 80 years ago, Altiero Spinelli was already right about this (as about much else).

And by the way, European citizens have also, for decades now, called for a stronger EU foreign policy. For many years there have been large and stable majorities asking for this – and in recent years the figures have gone up (to over 70% in the latest Eurobarometer).

Because citizens understand very well that in a world of super-powers throwing their weight around, a world of big trends and big threats, there is no hope in making an impact if each country acts alone. This is obvious and yet, and yet, making EU foreign policy effective remains, shall we say, work in progress.

The reason is that European citizens ever are ahead of national governments. Governments are the main decision makers – and in foreign policy that means the rule of unanimity.

In other areas, as is well known, we have transferred competences to the Community-level and agreed to take decisions by qualified majority vote. And make no mistake: there are also major national interests at stake in these areas, for example the single market, or energy and climate targets. Contrary to what you hear sometimes, these are no less ‘sensitive’ policy areas than foreign policy.

But we have collectively decided that the best was to avoid paralysis and delays that come with unanimity. That we would empower common institutions with clear mandates and resources.

In foreign and security policy we don’t have, nor do we even work for, a single EU foreign policy as Spinelli called for, but a common one. A bit like the Balladur plan when we are were preparing the monetary union.

It is worth noting that we decided to go for a single currency with a single monetary policy managed by the ECB. Or that we have a single trade policy managed by the Commission, based on mandates and approvals adopted by Qualified Majority Voting.

Typically, these policies work reasonably well: we are able to take decisions fast to defend common European values and interests.

We have a great diversity of views inside the EU of 27 on international issues. We don’t have a common strategic culture. So it is no surprise that we often take ages to decide anything. Or that we excel in issuing statements where we ‘monitor’ or ‘express our concerns’ but don’t specify what actions we will take if our concerns our not listened to (as is too often the case).

I know very well that it is difficult to change things in the EU especially on how we organise ourselves. But I believe that in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe, we should have an open debate, without taboos, and ask how we can give ourselves the institutional means to build the credible foreign policy that our citizens are asking for.

In the mid-1980s there was the Chechini Report on the cost of non-Europe, which paved the way to the Single Market which was established through Qualified Majority Voting. We now need to calculate the cost of non-Europe in foreign policy and draw the consequences.

Let me end on one final, important and symbolic point: 80 years on it may be time for a new Ventotene Manifesto. One that focuses not just on the critique of nation-states as the source of wars and international anarchy. But to highlight their limitations to address the big transnational challenges of our time: pandemics, climate change, migration, digital, etc.

All these challenges are global in nature. There are no real national answers. In addition to equipping our European Union with the powers it needs, we also need to forge a reformed global governance. With clear rules of road, and above all, with effective means to enforce them.

Too often, we see internationally agreed rules being flouted with impunity. Too often countries are pushing self-serving approaches and getting away with it. Too often we hear the siren songs of nationalism where strong men (they are mostly men) offering simple solutions. In too many cases, the existing system is unable to deliver effective action.

This we cannot afford. So my appeal to you is this: let’s discuss a new Ventotene Manifesto, offering concrete solutions to the pressing problems of an unstable world. One that’s ambitious and bold in character, with a sharp sense of urgency behind it but one that’s also deeply practical and modern: to solve the problems that define our age and that of our (grand)children.

Thank you.