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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Godfather of the European Union: Altiero Spinelli

Lindsay Jenkins

Foreword by Sir Richard Body

'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 momentous.

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 story.1

Stalinist Spinelli Fights Mussolini

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 occupied Europe.

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 revolutionary hothouse.

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 southern provinces.

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.

A Revolutionary Prison

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 Europe.

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 European federation."

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 recommended,

"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 that.

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 Europe.

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 Italy itself.

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.

Escape, to Plan for Peace

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 judiciary.

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 programmes.

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 later.

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 Hooft.

In Secret

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 " 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 communications."

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 Federal Union.

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 the people."

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 deliberation."

Campaigning Begins

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 Italian Republic:

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 federal citizens.11

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 years.

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.

Federalism Takes-off

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 Italy.

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 lie elsewhere.13

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.

Spinelli Defeats Thatcher

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 subtle.

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! 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.

Victory in Sight

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 defined".16

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 Union.

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 1986.

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, 1957.
    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 Coming Euro-Dictatorship.
    Politics and Government in the Federal Republic of Germany: Basic Documents, 1984.
    Brigadier Cowgill's The Maastricht Treaty in Perspective.
    Single European Act, Article 30.2(c).
    Nicholas Ridley, My Style of Government.
    Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years.

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