Seven years after my first visit in 2014, I came back to the small and beautiful island of Ventotene not far from the Gulf of Naples, last 29 August, on the 80th anniversary of the publication of the appeal “For a Free and United Europe. A Draft Manifesto”. Several personalities also attended, including President Mattarella of the Italian Republic, and Guy Verhofstadt, Co-Chair of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The Ventotene Manifesto, as it became known later on, was written in 1941, shortly before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, when Hitler controlled practically all of Europe. Its authors were Altiero Spinelli (former communist) and Ernesto Rossi (radical). Eugenio Colorni, a socialist, served as editor and wrote a prologue. All of them were exiled in the island for their opposition to fascism. Spinelli and Rossi, in their discussions with Colorni, and his wife, Ursula Hirschmann, a German Social Democratic Jew, were preoccupied about the belief in the absolute sovereignty of nation-states, which they considered the main cause of the wars in Europe, a trend exacerbated by totalitarianism, antisemitism, and racism. They developed a new vision based on the idea of shared sovereignty: that of a Europe united by a customs-free common market, a currency, and freedom of movement for workers. They also called for a political union endowed with its own foreign policy and armed forces.
The Manifesto spread like wildfire through all the circles of the European resistance. This resulted in the founding of the movements for a European federation in several countries, the decisive Hague Congress of 1948. It resulted ultimately in the Schuman Declaration of 1950, which proposed the European Coal and Steel Community, the first step on our integration process, based on the supranational principle. Later on, in a career that included being Commissioner and Member of the European Parliament, Spinelli promoted the Treaty of the European Union of 1984, which was approved by the European Parliament. Originally rejected by the Council, it became a major influence in the writing of the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that launched the monetary union and created the foreign and security pillar, of intergovernmental nature.
When we re-read the Manifesto 80 years after, it is clear that the authors were right: the pooling of sovereignty that Europeans have put in place for the last seven decades has indeed provided the longest period of peace and prosperity in Europe. Furthermore, some of their proposals have become a reality over time, like the internal market and its four fundamental freedoms, and the Euro. Other dimensions of the Ventotene Manifesto are still a work in progress, like a more robust EU foreign policy and a Defence Union.
Indeed, anniversaries should not constitute a mere moment of commemoration or remembrance, but also be occasions to take stock of a historical program and its development, and to update and project a cultural legacy and a political vision into the future.
Certainly, the spirit of the Manifesto has not lost its validity, on the contrary: we are even facing new challenges that for historical reasons were not part of the 1941 discussion. In a globalized, interconnected, and interdependent world, the call for further transnational action is clearer than ever in several fields: migrations, climate change and the preservation of biodiversity, the development and stability of the Mediterranean and Africa, digitization, pandemics…
Specifically, the new geopolitical landscape only strengthens the proposal of a European strategic sovereignty in matters of security and defense, which is precisely the least developed dimension of the Manifesto. It is therefore imperative the constitution of a rapid reaction force of a minimum of 5000 soldiers, among other measures, that can act autonomously and be deployed to preserve our values and interests. The process of the Strategic Compass is already helping in the definition of this necessary common security and defense culture.
We must also take advantage of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which was launched on 9 May in Strasbourg with civil society and citizens, in order to strengthen the role of Europe in the world. One of the nine thematic working groups of the Conference is precisely focusing on this topic, which is as well one of the six priorities of the Commission. I expect in particular an in-depth discussion on the issue of the decision making process in Foreign Affairs matters. It should be noted that the Lisbon Treaty already offers the possibility to revert to Qualified Majority Voting in the Council instead of unanimity, but it requires a unanimous agreement, which has been lacking so far. The same Treaty also allows to transition from a common defence policy to a common defence.
As stated in the last line of the Ventotene Manifesto,the road ahead towards a more united and strong Europe, "is neither easy nor safe” but we shall strive, with all our energy and intelligence, to fulfill its unrealized promise.