Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzo did well to invite French president François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit the grave of Altiero Spinelli (1907-1986) on the island of Ventotene, at the end of August, to celebrate his memory along with that of the other thinkers and spiritual pioneers of European unification. The echo of this landmark event reverberated throughout Europe and brought together the three European leaders, although their diverse views on current political affairs eventually repositioned them on different fronts. In the years spent on the island of Ventotene, where they had been exiled by the Fascist regime, Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni drew up the draft Manifesto “For a Free and a United Europe”, which all federalist movements – as well as many democratic political leaders – drew inspiration from and put into practice in their political commitments during the post-war years
aimed at overcoming the nation-State concept and to ensure full reconciliation among European peoples.
Having been arrested already in the 1920s for his resistance against Fascism, Spinelli matured the intuitions and reflections formulated in this manifesto during the 16 years of exile and imprisonment. By reading and studying the major authors of philosophic and historiographic traditions, he was preparing for his future tasks. “As I attempted to become wise” is his consistent, moving autobiography of great value also in its literary form, providing an impressive testimony of the maturation and formation process that also led him to distance himself from the Communist beliefs of his youth. Altiero Spinelli can be considered one of the founding fathers of the European community owing to the influence he exerted, not only with the Ventotene Manifesto, but also through his activism in support of European federalism, as advisor to Prime Minister De Gasperi, as journalist, founder of the International Affairs Institute (IAI), and in later years as authoritative Member of the European Parliament and of the European Commission. Unlike Alcide De Gasperi, Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer, Spinelli was not involved in major decisions regarding integration policies as a government representative, which explains why he is not as known outside Italy, where he is remembered for his important role and contribution. He is one of the many leading personalities who gave a tremendous contribution to the unification of Europe. Spinelli represents a different kind of political figure who owing to the success of European integration was not less important than government leaders, namely, those who ratified and implemented the Treaties and ensured the adoption of national policies from a Community perspective within the European framework. He was the source of inspiration, the precursor, the teacher and the mentor.
The question was also to ensure that the project was accepted by civil society as large – as a primary condition of Community unification policies adopted at national level
whilst securing the support of elite groups as well as of the citizens. The merit of personalities like Altiero Spinelli, Jean Monnet, Hendrik Brugmans, Max Kohnstamm and many others who were actively involved in the Europeanist movement, paving the way to integration policies, developed in these realms. In celebrating the memory of Spinelli and of his colleagues, Renzi, Hollande and Merkel underlined their present responsibility in furthering the great effort of European unification and pacification, initiated by the founders and pioneers. They recalled its genesis, and thus the reasons and the values pertaining to a project that was, and remains, also an ethical project. Even though the event of August 22 in Ventotene was primarily a symbolic gesture, that gesture should not be underestimated. Especially at this moment in time when the unification process is marked by serious difficulties, when one of its pillars, namely the very concept of solidarity, is starting to vacillate. During the meeting with the heads of Government and State of Central and Eastern European countries members of the European Union, held right after the gathering in Ventotene,
Angela Merkel must have felt inspired by the memory of Ventotene.
The matter at stake involved reminding her interlocutors – who in the name of national sovereignty refuse to welcome migrants into their Countries – about the importance of that fundamental value, critical to the success and the stability of the European Union. Wasn’t it the same reckless national sovereignty that Altiero Spinelli had reckoned to be the very cause of the war in Europe, which had to be overcome through unification and with a European federal system? History repeats itself and there is always a lesson to be learnt…