Godfather of the European Union: Altiero Spinelli
'The truth will out', said Chaucer. His words could serve as a motto for
the Bruges Group and all it does. Its existence would have scarcely been
necessary if the British people had been told the truth about what was in
store for them in what purported to be a common market.
Recently, Sir Edward Heath told the House of Commons that Europe was never
about economics, but about politics. Because many millions of pounds were
spent in telling the British people the very opposite, a "Yes" vote in the
1975 referendum was not surprising.
Many untruths were told in the 1970s. Amongst them was the repeated claim
that the Communists were the principal opponents of our membership. Advocates
of membership propounded that a European Economic Community would make us
prosperous and our economic well-being would deter the peoples of Western
Europe from flirting with Communist Russia. Fear, we know, is a powerful
emotion; and it succeeded in persuading millions of British people.
Nothing else that was said or done that did more to get the British people
to surrender their self-government.
Now Lindsay Jenkins has come along with this brilliant pamphlet. Of all the
Communists in post-war western Europe, Spinelli was the most famous,
influential and powerful. This paper offers the clearest evidence that
Spinelli was the true architect of the Maastricht Treaty. Although many other
Communists have argued for a United States of Europe, most of the others have
always been secretive about their ambitions.
Spinelli himself was not always totally frank about his dream of a Union,
so our author has had to work hard to reveal the truth.
Let us applaud what Lindsay Jenkins has done. What is more, let us now ask
ourselves what is the difference between the constitutional essence of the old
Soviet Union and of the European Union as it is evolving.
Few in Britain have heard of the Italian Leninist and former Stalinist,
Altiero Spinelli. Yet federalists at the heart of the European Union fully
recognise the importance of Spinelli's contribution to the creation of the
European Union. His impact on the birth of the European Super State has been
Altiero Spinelli, a lifelong Communist, was one of the main strategic
thinkers who devised the sum and substance of the European Union as it is
today. His skills went beyond armchair strategy. Spinelli was a key figure in
the early years of creating a federal Europe. Then for nearly four decades his
star was eclipsed by others, notably Jean Monnet and his backers. It was not
until 1980 that Spinelli stepped back into the limelight and rose to the
challenge posed by the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Spinelli was able to promote his ideas honed over those many decades and
create the impetus which, even after his death in 1984, have dominated the
development of Europe's flegling Super State; first in the Single European
Act, then the Maastricht Treaty and now the Amsterdam Treaty.
How sad it is that over the last thirty-five years of British membership
British governments have not looked behind the facade of the European Union.
Soon Spinelli may be able to rest in peace content that his vision has been
realised. And as Hugh Gaitskell foretold, the inhabitants of the British Isles
may no longer be British, only European. It would be the end of a thousand
years of history. In that end Altiero Spinelli will have played a key role,
though others of different nationalities may rightly claim to be the leaders
of Britain's destruction as an independent country. But that is another
Altiero Spinelli was born in Rome, two years after Lenin's first and
abortive coup in St Petersburg. In his youth he was attracted to the ideas of
Lenin and of Trotsky. In 1924, aged only seventeen, he joined the Communists;
his involvement went well beyond an academic interest in political theory. The
Communists were in the thick of resisting Benito Mussolini and his
blackshirted Fascists who had taken power in October 1922. So Spinelli and
others like him were active in resistance years before the outbreak of the
Second World War and the growth of resistance movements throughout Nazi
Within four years of taking power Mussolini was absolute dictator of Italy.
The opposition, the Anti-Fasciti, was made up of several parties
which formed and reformed. Those who resisted had to do so mainly from abroad,
usually in France; and to much less effect from North and South America. Those
at home who were too vocal found themselves in front of Mussolini's dreaded
Special Tribunal and spent years in prison. Resistance was a highly dangerous
business: it certainly proved so for Spinelli.
On 6th April 1928 in a series of crack-downs on the leaders of the
Communists, the Partito Communista Italiano (PCI), Spinelli was
arrested and took his turn in front of Mussolini's Special Tribunal. He was
sentenced to jail and spent twelve years in different prisons until he was
eventually sent to the prison island of Ventotene.2
With time to think he broke with Stalinism in 1937. But he was never to
move far from his Stalinist roots. Spinelli's certainty, drive and ambition,
partially born of his Communist training, were later to be critical in
creating the European Union.
The prison island of Ventotene became the enforced headquarters of the PCI
underground with Communists outnumbering all the other groups. More arrived
after the fall of Paris in June 1940, when many of those who had been refugees
there, some for ten years or more, were shipped back to Mussolini and to
prison. By that time there were about 1,000 prisoners on Ventotene. It was a
Spinelli strongly believed that the days of national sovereignty were dead.
In Italy, federal ideas have a long pedigree dating back to the days of the
Risorgimento and earlier to Guiseppe Mazzini3 and Carlo Cattaneo. During the First World War
various Italian Socialists advocated European federation. In 1916 the
revolutionary Socialist, Guiseppe Modigliani, wrote in the journal
Avanti! that a United States of Europe would be the inescapable
result of economic progress breaking down national boundaries, and forcing the
creation of new institutions which the Socialists could take over.
On the prison island, Spinelli came under the influence of two men: his
fellow prisoner Ernesto Rossi4 and,
through his writings, Rossi's friend, Professor Luigi Einaudi.
Immediately after the First World War, Professor Einaudi, a liberal
economist, wrote articles and letters to newspapers against national
sovereignty. Using the pen name "Junius" in the Corriere della Sera
he criticised the plan for the League of Nations because it left the
sovereignty of states intact. He wanted a Europe based either on the USA or on
the English union with Scotland: with the power to tax, one army, and control
over customs, postal communications and the railways.5 He inspired others who were also writing along
similar lines, such as Giovanni Agnelli (of Fiat) and Attilio Cabiati.6
Between the wars European federation was part of the platform of the
Giustizia e Liberta, a party formed in 1929 and inspired by the firebrand
Socialist Emilio Lussu and by Carlo Rosselli.7 The "Giellisti", a coalition of Socialists and
Liberals, wanted agrarian reform, co-operatives, Socialist public utilities
and progressive income tax. Despite the personal dangers the Giellisti
attracted increasing numbers of supporters to oppose Mussolini. By 1933 the
Giellisti had 800 followers in Rome and around 3,000 in the central and
In May 1931 Mussolini's Special Tribunal sentenced the Giellisti leader in
Milan, Professor Ernesto Rossi, together with his colleague Riccardo Bauer, to
twenty years in prison and so smashed the Milan branch. Rossi had been
operating in a cloak and dagger way for some years: once he had had to flee to
France for four months when he was caught smuggling propaganda across the
border into Italy. He too was sent to Ventotene.
Ventotene, the "confino" island, is in the Gulf of Gaeta off the
Italian coast between Rome and Naples. When it was a revolutionary prison it
was linked to the mainland by a supply boat, which went back and forth twice a
week enabling Professor Einaudi to send federalist reading material to his
friend Rossi. Occasionally underground tracts could be smuggled out.
Among the strongest written influences on Spinelli and his friends,
courtesy of Professor Einaudi, were the American eighteenth century
revolutionaries Hamilton, Jay and Madison. Among the contemporary writers were
Sir Walter (later Lord) Layton of The Economist, American Clarence
Streit, Sir William (later Lord) Beveridge and Barbara Wootton (later a
Professor, a Baroness and a deputy speaker in the House of Lords). All four
were advocates of European federation.
In Union Now, published in 1939, Clarence Streit had argued for a
federation of Britain and America as the nucleus of fifteen democratic
countries. Its publication caused a considerable stir at the time.
Unlike the others, Layton believed a federation was right for Europe but
not for Britain. From 1922 to 1938 Layton was particularly influential as
editor of The Economist and was later its chairman. In the 1950s when
he was deputy leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords, Layton was to
change his views and then held that Britain should be part of a federal
Years later, in a 1957 speech, Spinelli acknowledged the importance of the
Anglo-American literature he had received on Ventotene. He said he had whiled
away some of his time by translating Professor Harold Robbins' The
Economic Causes of War into Italian. He commented that the British
pre-war literature was first class and "even superior to the average
Continental literature... The Italian movement has absorbed much from the
British."8 For a man of his not
inconsiderable ego that was praise indeed.
The leaders of the federalist prisoners were Spinelli, Rossi (who by that
time had broken with his Giellisti colleagues), Eugenio Colorni (head of the
Socialist Party until his arrest in 1938), Enrico Giussani, Dino Roberto and
Giorgio Braccialarghe. They all helped to write a crucial work, the
Manifesto for a Free and United Europe, but the dominant hand was
that of Spinelli.
In July 1941 Rossi managed to smuggle the tract to the mainland. Rossi's
wife, Ada, took the final version, written on cigarette-papers and hidden in
the false bottom of a tin box, back with her on the supply boat. For
cigarette-papers it is a lengthy document. Later, widely known as the
Ventotene Manifesto, it had an extraordinary impact, inspiring those
who drafted the policies of the re-emerging Italian parties. After the war it
became the basic document of the European Federalist Movement.
In the Ventotene Manifesto Spinelli argued that a Federal Union of
Europe had to be the top priority for post-war Italy. The workers of both
capitalist and Communist countries had to be liberated. Not surprisingly,
given Spinelli's background, it reads like a Communist tract:
"A free and united Europe ... will immediately revive in
full the historical process of the struggle against social inequalities and
privileges. All the old conservative structures which hindered this process
will have collapsed or will be in a state of collapse... In order to respond
to our needs, the European revolution must be socialist..."
Spinelli's approach to the abolition of private property was flexible. He
deplored the "doctrinaire principle that the private ownership of the material
means of production must, as a general rule, be abolished" as in Stalin's
Russia where "the entire population was subject to a restricted cell of
bureaucrats who ran the economy..."
Instead "the forces of progress must be extolled and extended .... at the
same time.... the barriers which guided these forces ... must be strengthened
and perfected. Private property must be abolished, limited, corrected or
extended: instance by instance, not dogmatically according to principle."
Pursuing Lenin's approach, Spinelli was sure that the defeat of Germany
would be followed by a period of chaos when his revolution could take hold,
when "the fallen governments lie broken, during which the popular masses
anxiously await a new message and are, meanwhile, like molten matter, burning,
susceptible of being poured into new moulds, capable of welcoming the guidance
of serious internationalists..."
He went on "The collapse of the majority of the states of the continent
under the German steam-roller has already placed the destinies of the European
populations on common ground: either all together they will submit to Hitler's
dominion, or all together they will enter a revolutionary crisis after his
fall." Circumstances, he wrote, were "now favourable to our ideal."
Spinelli thought that ending the nation states of Europe would have other
benefits. For one, the German problem would be solved. "The multiple problems
which poison international life on the continent have proved to be insoluble:
tracing boundaries through areas inhabited by mixed populations, defence of
minorities, seaports for landlocked countries, the Balkan question, the Irish
problem, and so on. All matters which should find easy solutions in the
All the main functions of a state were to be centralised with just a little
freedom left for the old nation states. The new Europe would "have at its
disposal a European armed service instead of national armies; to break
decisively economic autarchies, the backbone of totalitarian regimes;...
sufficient means to see that its deliberations for the maintenance of common
order are executed in the single federal states, while each state will retain
the autonomy it needs for a plastic articulation and development of political
life according to the particular characteristics of its people."
In a second paper, The United States of Europe, Spinelli
"set[ting] up a few simple federal institutions, which
must be solid, irrevocable [a word we have heard many times since] and easily
understood. It will not be necessary to trouble much with individual national
problems. The federation would provide the necessary internal order to which
progressive forces would naturally adjust and from which they would derive
their future character."
Spinelli's third paper stressed that a European federation, unlike the
bureaucracy of Stalin's USSR, would have the fundamental principles of
"federation, socialisation of monopolies and redistribution of wealth." He
emphasised the need for an educational system to train men of initiative and
to choose the right men now. That was more important than the new
institutions. After the war the College of Bruges was founded to do just
Fellow prisoner, Professor Rossi, was afraid that, if they waited until the
war was over for Spinelli's "European consciousness" to appear of its own
accord, they would miss the boat. In the Risorgimento, small elites had
successfully unified Italy. So Rossi thought they should pressurise the
victorious countries using the Risorgimento's technique to achieve a united
In Montevideo in August 1942, Italian refugees from Mussolini organised a
Pan-American Congress to endorse European Federation. The idea was to put
pressure on the Mazzini Society of the USA (a broad-based propaganda
organisation to stir up anti-Fascist feeling) and on the American State
Department to accept the concept of European federalism as the ultimate
post-war goal. The refugees' efforts failed because the State Department took
the view that the Society's views were not part of the Italian mainstream in
Spinelli was also sceptical of the Mazzini's Society's aims, which he
though were too vague to be of any practical significance. He believed that
the USA would become a supporter of European Federation: therefore European
Federation would be a key part of the post-war world. Spinelli was right.
In August 1943, a month after Mussolini was overthrown, Spinelli and Rossi
were released from prison. Even as the Allies were advancing in the wake of
their successful landings in Sicily, the ex-prisoners were already travelling
north to Milan. There Professor Silvio Trentin, a Giellisti law scholar from
Venetia, had a cover operation - a bookshop - waiting for them.
Since 1925 Professor Trentin had been in exile in Paris with the Italian
Socialist party. When the Germans marched into Paris, he fled south to
Toulouse. Using a bookshop as cover, he became the focal point for Italian and
Spanish Republican exiles. So, in a repeat operation behind the facade of
Trentin's Milanese bookshop, Spinelli and friends started to reorganize.
Within a few days of their arrival in Milan they secretly held the first
meeting of what would become the influential Movimento Federalista
Europeo (MFE). Between fifteen and twenty former prisoners from the
island of Ventotene met in the home of Mario Alberto Rollier. Rossi and
Spinelli were the joint secretaries of the new movement. They produced a six
point declaration based on the Ventotene Manifesto.
The MFE group expected that there would be bloody revolution as the war
came to an end, just as had happened at the end of the First World War when
the Russian revolution spread to parts of Germany. They hoped to be able to
take advantage of the upheaval to create a federal Europe in which all the
citizens of Europe would control the executive, the legislature, and the
Milan became the publishing centre for the few federalists left in Italy.
Labouring under great difficulty, the MFE produced eight clandestine issues of
its newspaper L'Unita Europea. It was first edited by Colorni, then
by Rollier, and stencilled copies were circulated. Four of the issues included
reprinted articles by Sir Walter Layton, Lord Beveridge and Barbara Wootton.
They also reported on Allied policy for post-war planning, analysed Italian
foreign policy and discussed federalism.
The MFE was deliberately a movement, not a party. Guglielmo wrote in
L'Unita Europea, "federalism in its present period of germination ...
merits the title of a political movement not a party" and thus "allows its
members a certain breadth and variety of views in regard to social ideologies
and government programmes... It aims to create an organization of its own,
capable of spreading the federalist idea and of acting resolutely in a
revolutionary sense in the context of today's underground political life.
Tomorrow, when politics become legal again, it intends to lose no opportunity
of operating on the level of political parties."
The influence of the MFE was to be astounding: all the post-war Italian
parties, except the Communist PCI, included federalism in their
On 8th September 1943, the Germans seized the Po valley and life in the
occupied North became more hazardous. Thousands of Italians fled across the
border to Switzerland and joined the few already sheltering there.
Unlike some of their colleagues, Spinelli, Rossi, Giussani and Usellini
believed that working for a federal Europe was more important than remaining
in Italy to fight the Nazis. Rossi had an excuse because he had been disabled
in the Great War. Spinelli had none.
Spinelli was briefly in touch with the chief Special Operations Executive
representative in Switzerland, Jock McCaffery. Nevertheless, from the autumn
of 1943 Spinelli concentrated not on defeating the Germans, in which he had
never had much interest, but rather on creating a United States of Europe in
the post-war world. He continued to do so until he died over forty years
The Swiss contingent sent back many articles to Colorni and his secret
printer in Milan. Enrichetta Ritter braved the dangers of crossing the
frontier into German-held Italy. Under the pen name 'Thelos', Rossi wrote a
pamphlet called L'Europe de Demain, and Colorni managed to print a
staggering 10,000 copies. In May 1944 they were smuggled into occupied France.
The following year the pamphlet was reprinted by the Geneva Centre d'Action
together with other federalist articles.
Geneva was not only safe but from there it was also possible for Spinelli
and friends to contact other national groups operating within resistance
movements round Europe. They quickly identified them and worked hard to
co-ordinate their activities and programmes.
Help also came from an unexpected quarter, the Dutch Secretary-General of
the World Council of Churches in Geneva, the Rev. Dr Willem Visser 't
The Italians needed a safe house from which to conduct their illegal
activities. Within a few weeks of their arrival in Switzerland, 't Hooft was
introduced to them by Jean-Marie Soutou, who had represented the French
underground newspaper Temoignage Chretien in Geneva since the spring
of 1943 and was an agent of the Mouvements Unis de Resistance.
With the constant problem that Swiss neutrality had to be respected, and
the fear of the dire results if it was not, Spinelli's meetings had to be held
in secret. They were reported in the press in vague terms as international
meetings of resistance leaders 'somewhere in occupied Europe', which was
stretching the truth somewhat - some were, some not. Because travel in
occupied Europe was hazardous the meetings took some months to set up. Not all
those invited could come.
Between March and June 1944 five meetings were held in 't Hooft's house. No
full record of those attending was kept, but there were about fifteen people.
The Italians were represented by Spinelli, Rossi and Professor Egidio Reale of
the Italian Republican Party. Representing France were Jean-Marie Soutou,
Laloy, the official representative in Geneva of the French National Committee
in Algiers, and Francois Bondy, born in Austro-Hungary later a Swiss national,
who maintained contact with French Socialist resistance groups. From Germany
came Hanna Bertholet of the Militant Socialist International (ISK), linked
with the German trade unions and in touch with German resistance groups, and
Hilda Monte9, also a member of the ISK
from Germany with links to the remnants of German resistance. 'T Hooft
represented the Dutch resistance. The names of a Yugoslav from Tito's
movement, a Pole, a Czech, a Norwegian and a Dane are not known.
There was some debate about whether to allow any Germans to be present, but
a majority allowed Hilda Monte and Hanna Bertholet to slip into the room.
Hilda Monte was later shot at the border when she tried illegally to cross
back to Switzerland from Germany.
Nearly all those present were motivated by the same basic premise: namely
that the internationalist concepts of the League of Nations should form the
foundation for any federal Europe. The French and the Italians wanted to go
much further than the others and curtail national sovereignty. That was to be
the forerunner of many later battles.
The participants signed the International Federalists'
Declaration, which was edited by the Italians and based on the
Ventotene Manifesto. They wanted "...to go beyond the dogma of the
absolute sovereignty of the state and unite in a single federal organisation.
The lack of unity and cohesion that still exists between the different parts
of the world will not allow us to achieve immediately an organisation that
unites all civilisations under a single federal government. At the end of the
war one will therefore have to be content with setting up a universal
organisation of a less ambitious kind, but one able to develop in the
direction of federal unity."
The writers believed that the destruction from two world wars was due to
the existence of thirty sovereign states; "this anarchy must be remedied by
the creation of a Federal Union between the European peoples." It was not, of
course, the case that thirty states caused either World War: in both cases it
was German ambitions. Repeating the Ventotene Manifesto the writers
thought: "only a federal Union will allow the German people to participate in
the life of Europe without being a danger for the rest."
"The Federal Union must not prejudice the right of each ... member country
to solve its own special problems according to its own ethnic and cultural
characteristics. But ... states must irrevocably surrender to the Federation
those aspects of their sovereignty that deal with the defence, relations with
states outside the Federal Union and international trade and
They called for a government responsible to the people, one army
responsible to the supra-government excluding all other armies, and a supreme
tribunal. Finally they wanted a permanent headquarters from which to build the
Secretly, the Declaration was sent from Switzerland to all occupied
countries in Europe and to Britain. Reaction was mixed.
In Britain the Socialist Vanguard Group10 was enthusiastic. Sir Walter Layton, whose
influence on the Italians had been so marked, told the audience at the annual
conference of the Geographical Association in January 1945 that there should
be a world organisation combined with regions. He advocated Spinelli's
declaration which had been sent to him from Switzerland for "a central
government for Europe responsible not to the various state governments but to
Some French were positive: in Lyons in June 1944, the CFFE (Comité
Francais pour la Fédération Européenne) newly created by some of the
resistance movements, agreed a similar declaration.
Only four of the Dutch resistance groups replied: they had more pressing
engagements. One said, "this may seem surprising in Switzerland, but it is
understandable to anyone who knows and experiences conditions here. The
resistance groups are fully occupied with their own task, with day-to-day
cares and the constant risk to their lives - executions of late have risen to
over 500 a month - and cannot be expected to find time or opportunity to
consider such international questions with the necessary calm and
After the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, the resistance
movements in all countries became increasingly concerned with the last battles
against the Nazi occupiers; and then with their own national positions as the
end of the war approached.
In the late summer of 1944 Spinelli left Switzerland to return to Italy,
and immediately became a leader of the Action Party Secretariat for Upper
Italy, which took over from the Giellisti. In December the Action Party
proposed that the principle of the transfer of sovereign rights to a
"democratic European federation" should be embodied in the Constitution of the
The Italian State considers its own absolute sovereignty
to be provisional and is prepared to transfer those sovereign functions which
are of supranational concern to a future democratic federation of Europe in
which Italians would enjoy all the rights and assume all the obligations of
In 1947 this supranational clause was made part of the new constitution of
the Italian Republic. Most of those who voted for it did not understand what
they were doing: in the understated words of one historian it "proved quite
useful." It was an outstanding success for Spinelli, who was to remain a
leading campaigner for the United States of Europe for the next forty
Professor Ernesto Rossi worked for the MFE and for the Action Party and,
until his death in Rome in 1967, wrote extensively and strove to establish the
United States of Europe.
Colorni, who had converted to federalism on Ventotene and became the first
clandestine editor of L'Unita Europea, was active in rebuilding the
Socialist Party in Rome. In August 1943, the new underground Socialist groups
were merged into one with a programme which, thanks to Colorni, combined
internationalist principles with the idea of European federation. Colorni
published the Ventotene Manifesto and promoted it widely. In May 1944
he was murdered by the Fasciti.
Professor Einaudi, whose smuggled works had inspired Spinelli on Ventotene,
returned from his Swiss exile and in 1946 and 1947 was a member of the
Constituent Assembly. He was a member of the first Cabinet of De Gaspari, a
fellow federalist and a Christian Democrat. After the peace treaty was
ratified on 29th July 1947, Einaudi said, "the next goal is the United States
of Europe".12 From 1948 to 1955 his
influence was paramount: he was President of the Italian Republic.
Immediately after the war Spinelli led the Movimento Federalista
Europeo (MFE) which he and his former fellow prisoners had begun in the
Milanese bookshop in 1943. Because he was in prison during his twenties and
most of his thirties he was even more single-minded than most wartime
resistance members. By 1947 the MFE claimed 15,000 members, mainly in the
North where Spinelli was operating. The MFE persuaded all the Italian parties,
except the Communist PCI, to include federalism in their programmes.
The MFE did not achieve much more until after June 1948, when its most
powerful leader, Spinelli, and his friend Rossi returned to international
politics. Until then Spinelli concentrated on pushing for a republican
constitution: he rightly saw no chance of any kind of European federation in
the first three years after the war.
In the first years of peace many pressure groups for European federalism
were formed; but all were tiny except for the revolutionary European Union of
Federalists (UEF). By mid-1947 that had 150,000 members, mainly in France and
Its leader was the Dutchman, Hendrik Brugmans, who had studied at the
Sorbonne and during the war worked briefly for the Je Maintiendra resistance
movement. Brugmans wanted to make Europe a third force between "totalitarian
socialism" and "anarchic capitalism", between the USSR and the USA. He
supported "the great Russian revolution". Europe, he thought, would gain from
large scale socialist planning. The UEF's intellectual roots went straight
back to the French revolution via the Paris Commune of 1871.
There was a battle royal between the French and Italians for control of the
UEF. The Italian leaders, Spinelli and Rossi, wanted a superstate, as they had
argued from their prison island, Ventotene, and later in the war from
Switzerland, certainly not small communities.
The French diplomatically paid lip service to this approach, but really
wanted an international organisation to reflect what they called "pre-existing
social realities"; i.e. representatives from every walk and class of life
based on the philosophy of Proudhon and the 1871 Paris Commune.
The first battle was at the UEF Montreux conference in August 1947. The
French won. The second battle was in Rome in November 1948. With Spinelli and
Rossi once again fully operational, the French lost to the Italians. With that
they lost not only the argument, but also control of the UEF movement.
The UEF was to be an influential pressure group, part of the background
clamour, but neither it nor Spinelli were responsible for the first serious
successes in the struggle to create a United States of Europe. Those successes
As the nascent United States of Europe took off in the 1950s and 1960s so
Spinelli's influence was to be eclipsed by Jean Monnet. The two men were at
loggerheads - both had big egos and there was no room for two. Unfortunately
for Spinelli, Monnet had the all-important American links plus the advantage
of being a Frenchman and part of the critical Franco-German axis.
Monnet deliberately ruled out individual membership of his Action Committee
for the United States of Europe in order to keep Spinelli on the sidelines.
But behind the scenes Spinelli was a constant critic of the slow pace of
'Europe'. Nearly every European proposal has had Spinelli's hand in it: quite
literally, because Spinelli's amendments are scrawled on drafts over many
years pushing for a superstate.
As Monnet's health declined and his influence began to fade, perhaps
coincidentally Spinelli started to return to centre stage. Between 1970 and
1976 Spinelli was the European Commissioner responsible for industrial policy
and then a member of the Italian Parliament representing the Communist PCI
party. At the same time he was a Member of the European Parliament and was
well known there as a Communist. He liked to think of himself as an
independent one. Three years later he was duly elected to the European
Parliament in the first elections. Spinelli was powerful, forceful but not
After Monnet's death in 1979 Spinelli was really back in the limelight. It
was Mrs Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, who inadvertently triggered the
events which renewed his attempts to move ever more closely towards a United
States of Europe.
In 1980, Mrs Thatcher, had the temerity to challenge the Community and
demand 'our money back'. The leaders of the other eight countries still had
much to learn about Mrs Thatcher's tenacity and determination. They thought
they could frustrate her and preserve Britain's enforced largesse. They
failed, she won; though she had to fight again four years later, and won
again. But in 1980 her victory left the Community in a state of what the
federalists called 'a suspended crisis'.
The United States of Europe had already been seriously knocked off course
twice before, once by General de Gaulle and his Europe des Patries,
and then again by the oil shocks and recession of the 1970s. Just as Roy
Jenkins, the President of the European Commission, seemed to be getting the
European Monetary System off the ground, the ERM was in place, everyone had
joined except for Britain, and EMU was surely just round the corner, then the
European train hit the buffers.
Into the breech created by Mrs Thatcher stepped Spinelli; by then 73 years
old and one of the few of the original "European" planners still alive.
In July 1980 just after Mrs Thatcher had asked "for our money back",
Spinelli and eight others founded the Crocodile Club. They named it after the
restaurant where they met in Strasbourg.
Spinelli and his Crocodile Movement aimed to make the European Parliament
take on the job of drafting a new treaty for European Union - the next step
beyond the Treaty of Rome. By that time the Treaty was already twenty-five
years old. Like Jean Monnet, Spinelli believed that there was a need for a new
treaty to push back the boundaries of the nation states even more. A year
later he persuaded the European Parliament to adopt his proposal, and
naturally enough he was the rapporteur for the new project.
His proposals were based on an alliance between the Commission and the
Parliament. Both wanted to increase their own power at the expense of the
Council of Ministers and the nation states. They are natural allies. Spinelli
wanted a Union which, as he said, "will have the sole power to act by its own
decisions" and "the end of inter-governmental co-operation". He had been
campaigning for that for forty years. Impatient with the long delay since
1945, Spinelli wanted to create one state in a single leap. The
inter-governmental European Council would become part of the union; the
European parliament would stop being consultative and became a formal
legislature; majority voting would replace unanimity - even agreement on the
new treaty would be by majority voting - so Britain for one could be outvoted
and still find herself signed up to it.
The Commission would become the only executive body; the powers of the
Court of Justice would be strengthened, the Union's control would be extended
to foreign policy and defence. No wonder Mrs Thatcher later said "No! no!
Spinelli's way of keeping the national governments quiet was to be the
principle of subsidiarity. All decisions would be made at the lowest
appropriate level of government. He said subsidiarity would help the
"transition to a higher level of union".
Yet Spinelli proposed subsidiarity only as a clever device, he never
intended it to be a guiding principle of the European Union. Subsidiarity is
part of the 1948 German constitution and German Basic Law states unambiguously
in article 31 that "Federal law shall override Land law". Therefore
sovereignty lies with the Federal Government.14 It is the Federal Government which decides
what issues shall be settled lower down by the Länder.
The nation states have all to some extent fallen for Spinelli's device. But
the British Government under Prime Minister John Major, took it to be an
enshrining principle of the Maastricht Treaty. Judges from the European Court
have confirmed that it is only a means to an end. Subsidiarity is a political
trick. The end is a single State.
At a seminar just before the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, European
jurists, including the former president of the Court of Justice, affirmed that
subsidiarity is "political in essence", not judicial.15 That is to say it is nothing to do with the
Court. The Treaty says that subsidiarity only applies to areas which do not
fall within the "exclusive competence" of the Community.
Conveniently that excludes subsidiarity from the whole of the Single Market
framework - just about the only aspect of "Europe" in which Britain has been
genuinely interested, though that too is not what the British think it is. The
Single Market is about uniformity, monopoly and protectionism, not about free
trade. Just as Spinelli intended, subsidiarity can be useful in public
relations. Most political speeches refer to it. Subsidiarity has made
centralisation more palatable.
In 1984 the European Parliament voted to recommend a version of Spinelli's
Draft Treaty for Union in 1984 to a superstate in one leap. Only two
countries however, Belgium and his own country of Italy, called for the treaty
to be ratified. Spinelli was disappointed, but that was not the end of it. His
attempt inspired a new committee under the Irish Senator, James Dooge. Dooge's
1985 report called for "a qualitative leap" to "a genuine political entity...
i.e. a European Union."
Most of the Dooge Committee's proposals appeared either in the Single
European Act or the Maastricht Treaty and they included much -- but not yet
all -- of what Spinelli had been battling for. For example, in the Single
European Act - which according to the British Government is all about free
trade and a single market - the nation states moved a step closer to a single
foreign policy. The existing inter-governmental meetings to co-ordinate and
discuss foreign policy and defence now had Treaty status. Technically, foreign
policy was still outside the Community, but for the first time the Commission
was to be "fully associated" with it and the member states agreed to "ensure
that common principles and objectives are gradually developed and
The British Government thought this was a good and harmless idea: it did
not involve coercion.17 It was, of
course, the thin end of the wedge. Throughout the development of the European
superstate the first stage of assimilating elements of national government has
been to begin with co-operation and then by degrees to work towards
compulsion. The federalists have played the same trick time and time again;
and each time the British Government has fallen for it.
Unfortunately, Mrs Thatcher did not appear to understand the underlying
purpose of the Single European Act. She wrote "At Brussels [in January 1985] I
also launched an initiative on deregulation designed to provide impetus to the
Community's development as a free trade and free enterprise area. It was
intended to fit in with our own economic policy..."18
Her view of the Community was mistaken. Yet it is typical of the way the
Community is seen from London, where even now few understand the driving force
behind 'Europe'. Most still think only in terms of free trade and practical,
commercial results. They do not see the full implications of the European
From the European Campaigner, the newsletter of the
European Movement, Spring 1996:
Tribute to Altiero Spinelli
1907 - 1986
Altiero Spinelli, founder of the federalist movement in
Europe and father of European integration, died 10 years ago, on 23 May
In memory of his life and in tribute to his work, the UEF is
organising a colloquium on the subject "From the Treaty of the European
Parliament to the revision of the Treaty on European Union". It will be held
in Brussels on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 June, with support from the European
Commission and the European Parliament.
- See Lindsay Jenkins' book, Britain Held Hostage:
The Coming Euro-Dictatorship, Orange State Press, 2nd edn. 1998.
- Spinelli was sentenced to 10 years in prison; then 6
on the confino islands Ponza & Ventotene.
- Mazzini: 1805 - 1872, Italian patriot who wanted a
unified Italy. Published a journal, Young Italy. Exiled to London in
1837 and returned as dictator of the short-lived Roma Republic in 1848
(fore-runner of Italian Union) which was put down by French forces.
- Rossi: 1897 - 1967, founder and moving spirit of GL.
Italian Government Minister for Reconstruction, 1945.
- Luigi Einaudi: "La Societa delle Nazione e un ideale
possiblie?" Corriere della Serra 5/1/1918.
- Giovanni Agnelli and Attilo Cabiati Federazione,
Europea o Lega dell Nazione?, Turin, 1918.
- Rosselli: one of two brothers, fellow students of
Rossi, he was assassinated in France in 1937.
- C. Grove Haines, (ed.) European Integration,
- Monte had gone into exile at 19, studied in London
and worked for the BBC.
- Set up by exiled Socialists after April 1942, the
British Labour Party tried, but failed, to control it.
- Charles Delzell, European Federalist Movement in
Italy: First Phase 1918 - 47.
- Walter Lipgens (ed.) Documents on the History of
European Integration (Berlin) Vol. 3, p. 167.
- Lindsay Jenkins, Britain Held Hostage: The
- Politics and Government in the Federal Republic
of Germany: Basic Documents, 1984.
- Brigadier Cowgill's The Maastricht Treaty in
- Single European Act, Article 30.2(c).
- Nicholas Ridley, My Style of
- Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street