BiographyAltiero Spinelli (31 August 1907 – 23 May 1986) was an Italian politicaltheorist and a European federalist. Spinelli is referred to as one of the"Founding Fathers of the European Union" due to his co-authorship of theVentotene Manifesto, his founding role in the European federalist movement,his strong influence on the first few decades of post-World War II Europeanintegration and, later, his role in re-launching the integration process in the1980s. By the time of his death, he had been a Member of the EuropeanCommission for six years, a Member of the European Parliament for ten yearsright up until his death. The main building of the European Parliament inBrussels is named after him. The 1987–1988 academic year at the College ofEurope was named in his honour.
Early lifeSpinelli was born in Rome, and joined the Italian CommunistParty (PCI) at an early age in order to oppose the regime ofBenito Mussolinis National Fascist Party. Following his entryinto radical journalism, he was arrested in 1927 and spent tenyears in prison and a further six in confinement. During the warhe was interned on the island of Ventotene (in the Gulf ofGaeta) along with some eight hundred other politicalopponents of the regime. During those years, he broke withthe Italian Communist Party over Stalins purges (resulting inhim being ostracised by many of the other prisoners), butrefused to compromise with the fascist regime, despite offers ofearly release.
Ventotene ManifestoIn June 1941, well before the outcome of the war was safely predictable, Spinelliand fellow prisoner Ernesto Rossi completed the Ventotene Manifesto, eventuallyentitled Per un’Europa libera e unita ("Toward a Free and United Europe"), whichargued that, if the fight against the fascist powers was successful, it would be invain if it merely led to the re-establishment of the old European system ofsovereign nation-states in shifting alliances. This would inevitably lead to waragain. The document called for the establishment of a European federation by thedemocratic powers after the war. Because of a need for secrecy and a lack ofproper materials at the time, the Manifesto was written on cigarette papers,concealed in the false bottom of a tin box and smuggled to the mainland byUrsula Hirschmann. It was then circulated through the Italian Resistance, andwas later adopted as the programme of the Movimento Federalista Europeo,which Spinelli, Rossi and some 20 others established, as soon as they were able toleave their internment camp. The founding meeting was held in clandestinity inMilan on the 27/28 August 1943.The Manifesto was widely circulated in other resistance movements towards theend of the war. Resistance leaders from several countries met clandestinely inGeneva in 1944, a meeting attended by Spinelli.
The Manifesto put forward proposals for creating a Europeanfederation of states, the primary aim of which was to tieEuropean countries so closely together that they would nolonger be able to go to war with one another. As in manyEuropean left-wing political circles, this sort of move towardsfederalist ideas was argued as a reaction to the destructiveexcesses of nationalism. The ideological underpinnings for aunited Europe can thus be traced to the hostility ofnationalism: "If a post war order is established in which eachState retains its complete national sovereignty, the basis for aThird World War would still exist even after the Nazi attemptto establish the domination of the German race in Europe hasbeen frustrated" (founding meeting of the MFE).
Federalist advocateAfter the war, Spinelli, leading the federalist MFE, played a vanguard role in theearly episodes of European integration, criticising the small steps approach and thedominance of intergovernmentalism, feeling even that the chance to unite Europehad been missed as sovereign states were re-established without any common bondother than the functionalist OEEC and the largely symbolic Council of Europe. Even the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was felt to be too sectoral. The MFE believed governments alone would never relinquish their national power without popular pressure. They advocated a European constituent assembly to draft a European Constitution.
This approach eventually had a response from governments when they set up the"ad hoc assembly" of 1952–3. It was Spinelli who persuaded Italian PrimeMinister Alcide De Gasperi to insist in the negotiation of the European DefenceCommunity (EDC) treaty on a provision for a parliamentary assembly to draw upplans for placing the EDC, the ECSC and any other development within a globalconstitutional framework to "replace the present provisional organization" with"a subsequent federal or confederal structure based on the principle of theseparation of powers and having, in particular, a two-chamber system ofrepresentation". The Assembly was invited to submit its proposals within sixmonths of its constitutive meeting following the entry into force of the EDCtreaty. In fact, the Foreign Ministers, meeting three months after the signature ofthe EDC treaty, invited the ECSC Assembly immediately to draft a "treatyconstituting a European Political Authority" without waiting for ratification ofthe EDC Treaty.Spinelli played a significant role in advising the drafting of the Assemblysproposal for a European "Statute". However, the failure of France to ratify theEDC treaty meant it was all to no immediate avail. Some of its ideas, however,were taken up in subsequent events.
European politicianFollowing the crisis of the failure of the EDC, the "re-launch" under the Paul-HenriSpaak committee, which led to the 1958 EEC Treaty. Spinelli, recognising that theEEC institutions were the only real existing form of European integration, but stillconsidering that they were insufficient and that they lacked a democratic legitimacy,embarked on a "long march through the institutions". In 1970, he was nominated bythe Italian government to be a member of the European Commission from 1970 to1976, taking responsibility for industrial policy in order to develop European policiesin a new field.Spinelli decided to run in the first direct elections to the European Parliament in1979. He did so as an independent candidate on the list of the Italian CommunistParty, which by then had become a Eurocommunist party and was keen to haveprominent independent figures to stand on its list of candidates. He was elected andused the position to urge the first elected parliament to use its democratic legitimacyto propose a radical reform of the European Community, to transform it into ademocratic European state.
To this end, he began to gather like-minded Members of the EuropeanParliament around him, taking care toinvolve Members from different politicalgroups. An initial meeting at the "Crocodile"restaurant in Strasbourg set up the"Crocodile Club", which, once it was ofsufficient size, tabled a motion forParliament to set up a special committee(eventually established in January 1982 asthe Committee on Institutional Affairs, withSpinelli as General Rapporteur) to draft aproposal for a new treaty on union.The idea was that the European Parliament should act as a constituentassembly, although Spinelli was prepared to make compromises on the way to securebroad majorities behind the process. On 14 February 1984, the European Parliamentadopted his report and approved the Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union.The decision was taken with 237 votes for and 31 against (43 abstentions).
Spinellis project was soon buried by the governments of the member states.However, it provided an impetus for the negotiations which led to SingleEuropean Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. This happened with thehelp of several National parliaments, which adopted resolutions approving theDraft Treaty, and of French President François Mitterrand who, following ameeting with Spinelli, came to the European Parliament to speak in favour of itsapproach, thereby reversing Frances policy (since Charles De Gaulle) of hostilityto anything but an intergovernmental approach to Europe. This momentum wasenough to obtain the support of a majority of national governments to trigger thetreaty revision procedure