Brussels and Ventotene, in May 2006

Remembering Altiero Spinelli

Dear friends and European federalists...

, by Jan Seifert

All the versions of this article: [English] [français] [italiano]

Remembering Altiero Spinelli

These days we are mourning the 20th anniversary of the death of Altiero Spinelli. With him the European federalist movement has possibly lost one of its greatest protagonists.

However, occasion like those of today are not to focus on what we have lost in this great federalist but in what he has left for us.

Spinelli’s ideas are alive in JEF

“A federal structure is a necessary condition for the development of free political life”, Spinelli believed. Dissatisfaction to EU in its current form is not only rising from the inability to deliver.

There are deep concerns among people, not only in terms of the output “delivery”, but more related to the process preceding the results. Possibilities to take part in democratic deliberation and decision-making at the EU-level are - to put it mildly - imperfect.

These conclusions are already drawn up in one of Spinelli’s greatest pieces, the Manifesto of Ventotene, published in 1941. Here already, he outlined his ideas for a democratic Europe organised in a European Federation. In 1980, just six years before his death, Spinelli started the challenging task of drafting a new treaty - a Constitution - for the then EC.

His ideas put on paper 25 years ago were overwhelmingly endorsed by the EP in 1984. Now, only a week ago, the 15th country ratified the new Constitutional Treaty. Spinelli’s goal of a Constitution for the European Federation is ever more needed. And this is the work we are still continuing.

Spinelli was a great European parliamentarian

Even though it was equipped with limited competences Spinelli tried to extend the powers of the European Parliament. His great achievement in that sense was the vote on “his” constitution so as to give a genuinely European campaign issue for the parliament’s elections of 1984.

Spinelli was also well-respected by his colleagues for his great debating skills and his dedication to citizens’ institution, the EP. In commemoration to him the main building of the EP in Brussels today carries his name.

Spinelli’s heritage is a commitment for JEF

Even though no one in JEF today had the opportunity to meet Spinelli in person, he and his ideas are regular “guests” at our seminars and events. More concretely, the annual international seminar on the island of Ventotene is possibly one of the most memorable and inspiring heritage Spinelli left for JEFers from all over the continent.

Kindly supported and organised by the Altiero Spinelli Institute in cooperation with our Italian section this seminar has for generations of activists been the central occasions to discuss the ideas of European federalism and indeed those of Spinelli.

What would Spinelli say today ?

We can of course only speculate about what Spinelli would advise us to do in the current situation. But two priorities of our current work should also be those of Spinelli : Firstly, ratifying the Constitution. To move on with that, Spinelli would possibly support the demand for a European referendum in order to finally break the outdated unanimity principle and give the citizens of Europe their choice.

Secondly, the great parliamentarian Spinelli would encourage us to make the next EP elections into a more serious exercise. The question of linking its outcome to the choice of next Commission President as well as the possible establishment of transnational party lists and genuinely European campaigns by the European parties go along the lines of a full parliamentarisation.

The EU is the result of manifold historical side-steps and partial successes. Spinelli strived for his goals even on the cost of his personal freedom and life. More so, his Ventotene Manifesto was written on tobacco paper and smuggled out from the distant island.

We instead have all the means of electronic communication and freedom of speech to give life to his ideas. Spinelli did not say that attaining freedom of political life in European level is destined or comes as a gift from above: “The road to pursue is neither easy nor certain. But it must be followed and it will be!”

The mourning of this great federalist is also a reminder of what we all stand for. JEFers are honoured to pursue their goals while also defending the ideas of Spinelli. His work and commitment to the cause of peace and prosperity in Europe make him a role-model for every federalist in Europe.

For the commemoration ceremony on Ventotene, I would like to send you the warmest regards of the Executive Bureau of JEF, which is meeting this weekend in Brussels.

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