Year LVIII, 2016, Single Issue, Page 74

 

 

SPEECH BY THE
EMERITUS PRESIDENT OF THE
ITALIAN REPUBLIC,
GIORGIO NAPOLITANO*

 

 

I am indebted to President Anselmi and to all those who, with laudable tenacity, keep the noble tradition of the federalist movement alive here in Italy. I am also both grateful and honoured to be the recipient of an award that, most generously motivated, means all the more to me for having previously been conferred on one of Italy’s most respected protagonists of European integration, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity this has given me to pay tribute to Altiero Spinelli, as we approach the 30th anniversary of his death.

The significance of the presence here today of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, the President of the Senate, whom I thank for his warm and cordial words of greeting, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, will escape no one. We are grateful to all of them.

Like them, I cordially greet the authorities and the special guests here present. My particularly affectionate greetings go to Renata Colorni, who was so dear to Altiero and Ursula, as were all her sisters.

* * *

Over the years I have, on a number of occasions, had the opportunity to express, publicly, my views on Spinelli’s ideas, on the extraordinary unfolding of his life’s work, and on the legacy he left behind, the first time being when I addressed the House of Deputies on the first anniversary of his death. More recently, speaking at the University of Pavia, I underlined how much I, personally, am indebted to his teaching, and how remarkable his life story was. Spinelli’s long and difficult years in prison and then in exile culminated in the Ventotene Manifesto, a great project for Europe, conceived by him together with Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni. With the fall of fascism, however, Spinelli regained his freedom but found himself isolated politically. He thus embarked on his long journey, strengthened only by the feeling that he had a mission to fulfil.

In order to reflect, today, on the arduous path of European integration and on how best to address the choices that lie ahead, I wish to take, as my starting point, Spinelli’s final message, which dates back to March 1986 when he had, in his words, “almost reached the end of my life”. The message I refer to is contained in the introduction to a second part of his autobiography that, unfortunately, remained in draft form.

In that introduction he recalled his defeats and failures, and those of the federalist movement, which were also, therefore, setbacks for the cause of European unity. He wrote: “None of those failures, however, has left me with that grudge against reality that so often thrives in the hearts of those who are defeated. [...] It must be understood that the value of an idea, even before it finally succeeds, is reflected in its ability to rise from its defeats”. In fact, the process of European unification, begun 65 years ago, has suffered numerous major crises and out-and-out failures and defeats. And when we say that European integration has advanced through repeated crises, it must be clear that we are referring to events that cannot all be put on the same plane.

Certainly, there have been moments of tension and crisis in relations between the different Community member states, and in relations between the member states and the European institutions. The most notorious include the tension that arose in the mid-1960s between de Gaulle’s France and the European Community (known as the “empty chair crisis”), and the famous crisis a decade later between Great Britain, under Margaret Thatcher, and the Community. I refer, in this latter case, to the “juste retour” dispute that culminated in the British prime minister famously, and most unphlegmatically, shouting “I want my money back”.

These two crises stemmed not only from divergent interests and excessive national demands, but also from opposing views of what European unity means. And they were resolved, like others after them, through compromises, adjustments and ambiguities, thereby generating disappointment and dissatisfaction in the most coherent advocates of integration.

Out-and-out failures and defeats, on the other hand, are something quite different and far more serious, given that we are referring to events that have been responsible for interrupting the process of European integration, or diverting it off course, for considerable periods of time. The first and most serious of these setbacks was the rejection of the EDC Treaty in 1954. How exactly did this come about, and how did it interfere with the European project? Let us look back at the whole story. In May 1950, the six-member European Community had been defined and launched through the Schuman Declaration, a text inspired by a noblepolitical vision. Indeed, even though initially the idea — to pool Franco-German coal and steel production — had seemed to be of a merely technical nature, it soon became clear that it was essentially seen as a means of taking action on one “limited but decisive point”, namely the “manufacture of munitions of war” of which France and Germany had “been the most constant victims”. The explicit aim, as the Declaration showed, was to make “any war between France and Germany [...] materially impossible”. And what could possibly be more political than the objective of preserving peace in Europe?

The European Coal and Steel Community, introduced in 1951-52, was thus originally conceived, and clearly defined, as “the first concrete foundation of a European federation”. In line with this, the idea of a European Defence Community (EDC) treaty very soon came to the fore. Certainly, the creation of a common defence would, from a federal perspective, have been a valuable political development, and it is perhaps only now that we can really appreciate what a mistake it was to prevent it from coming into being, condemning it remain, to this day, a vital missing link in the construction of European unity.

A decisive political intervention, in this period, came from De Gasperi who, in close consultation with Spinelli — theirs was an extraordinary and emblematic partnership —, insisted on having Article 38 inserted into the EDC Treaty. Under the terms of this article, an Ad Hoc Assembly was entrusted with drawing up a draft statute for a European political community. Soon afterwards, in March 1953, this Assembly met with the purpose of adopting the resulting 117-article document. From today’s perspective, it is quite astonishing to see how far the new, rapidly established democratic leaderships in Italy and Germany were prepared to go in order to offer countries devastated by dictatorship, war and defeat a radically new horizon. Inspired by the hopes of their peoples, engaged in the immense task of reconstruction and aspiring to a better future, they sought to press ahead in spite of divisions and opposition within their own countries. If we consider the boldness and vision of leaders of the caliber of De Gasperi and Adenauer, the narrow horizons and petty calculations that weigh so heavily on the decisions of today’s EU member states appear mean and depressing to say the least.

However, the French National Assembly’s veto of the EDC treaty in August 1954 brought down the entire political project and created a real risk that the newly initiated and still very fragile process of integration would also crumble. Altiero Spinelli was acutely aware of this risk, but his response to the defeat was not to bear a “grudge against reality”, but rather to set about doing all he could to save the European integration project. In this, he worked in complete harmony with the other greatoriginator and strategist of European unity, Jean Monnet.

But the fact remains that the process of European integration was steered away from the political sphere and into the, extremely important but ultimately suffocating, economic arena, where it ended up remaining stuck for some considerable time.

We all know how this situation was overcome, and about the significant role played by Italy: from the Messina Conference to the 1957 Treaty of Rome that founded the European Economic Community. In that ambit, of course, Europe went on to achieve historic results that represented progress for everyone; these advances were punctuated by the addition of new member states and by applications from others to be part of the unification process. But it was to be 1979 before a major new step forward was taken in the political sphere, and it came in the form of the direct election of the European Parliament.

This development allowed Altiero Spinelli, elected as an MEP, to resume his work with a vengeance, and he worked enormously hard to gather support for his draft Treaty establishing the European Union. This text was adopted by the European Parliament in Strasbourg in February 1984. Coming a full 30 years after the collapse of the EDC project, it was a great triumph for Spinelli. This triumph was short lived, however, as the difficulties implementing the text, given the European Parliament’s lack of constituent power, soon became apparent. The intergovernmental negotiations that ensued gave rise to the Single Act, which left Spinelli bitterly disappointed. But he was soon back at work, devoting the limited time and energy he had left to paving the way for the gradual incorporation of important elements of his plan into subsequent European Treaties.

After Spinelli's death, it was the Maastricht Treaty that, by creating the single currency and European Central Bank, and thus requiring the eurozone member states to transfer monetary sovereignty to supranational institutions, finally marked a federal breakthrough. It represented a real and substantial deepening of European unity that also created the conditions for a major enlargement of the European Union. However, with the imminent prospect of EU membership rising to 25, and then 27, members, the time had come to re-iterate the EU’s underlying ideal, and give it a constitution. A lengthy and profitable process of discussion and elaboration resulted in the Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, which was duly signed by all the EU member states. However, in a further dramatic setback, the constitutional project was quickly derailed by the outcome of the relative referendums in France and the Netherlands, showing, once again, just how difficult and often disjointed the road to European unity really is.

Meanwhile, in the absence of political support, the monetary union, though a great innovation, was left fatally weakened. Indeed, it failed to become an effective economic as well as monetary union.

After this it was the turn of the global financial and economic crisis, with its repercussions in Europe and the eurozone in particular, to determine EU decisions.

In recent years, attention has inevitably been focused on the immediate and serious problems that have naturally dominated and shaped the thoughts of peoples and public opinion, and the reactions of the member states, and in this setting there has been little scope for political advances. Through recourse to intergovernmental mechanisms, frantic efforts have been made to establish, as was indeed necessary, greater coordination and discipline in budgetary policies, through decisions that, however, have actually impacted little on essential choices in the field of economic and fiscal policy in Europe.

Moreover, choices belonging to the framework of so-called austerity have now exhausted their purpose, leaving Europe needing to advance further towards more comprehensive integration and a fully political vision. New proposals have been drawn up to this end — I refer, in particular, to those of the presidents of European institutions —, but the pace is slow and the hesitations and inconsistencies numerous; furthermore, the situation is complicated, dramatically, by the migration emergency, which has exposed a series of problems: a crisis of the very ideals on which the Union is founded, growing disillusionment among the citizens/voters, shaky national political balances, and poor working of Europe's institutional order.

In short, a series of crisis situations have, let us say, culminated in a single and complex muddle of risks and challenges. What we need to do today is work to resolve these critical problems, and Italy, drawing inspiration from Spinelli’s message and example, which are both still very much alive, must play its part in this.

This means fighting the centrifugal tendencies and resurgences of nationalism that, more than ever before, are posing a real threat to the European edifice, and with it the future of European integration. Because if the EU falters, we Europeans — all our countries, without exception — will be pushed to the margins of global development and the search for a new world order.

These are now the incontrovertible reasons for pursuing European unification. What is more, being imposed by the changes that have taken place in different real-life settings and in global power relations, they lend dramatic truth to Jean Monnet’s prophetic affirmations, made in 1976. He stated that our nations today must learn to live together under common rules and institutions, freely arrived at, if they want to attain the size necessary for them to progress and remain masters of their destiny, and underlined that the sovereign nations of the past are no longer the framework within which they themselves can solve the problems of the present.

What we must not do is withdraw within nation-state boundaries and revive the national sovereignties, in other words heed the preaching of the eurosceptics and those who would see Europe destroyed. The time has also come, I might add, to react to the continued and coarse denigration, coming from these quarters, of the achievements of integration and European unity — to respond not only on the level of historical truth, but also by highlighting the progress that has been made, even in our present, extremely troubled, times.

In this regard, I may cite, as examples, the role the ECB has played in safeguarding the single currency, in order to allow our economies to hold firm and recover; the steps that have already been taken towards the creation of a banking union; and the greater unity and incisiveness shown by Europe in its efforts, in the area of common foreign and security policy, to achieve a positive outcome to the crisis in Iran, to work patiently towards agreements over Syria and Libya, and to combat the greater overall threat posed by Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Justified criticisms of and complaints over the present state of the European Union must be made taking great care not to endorse the position of those who are interested only in doom-mongering. This is the task of all the pro-European forces.

Let us now talk about Italy in particular, including a current situation that, in different ways, we find rather worrying. In this regard my comments will be dictated purely what we can learn from past experience and from the teaching of Spinelli. Contrary to what sensationalist headlines in certain newspapers might suggest, there is no showdown looming between Rome and Brussels. How can there be between a country — Italy — that has identified with the European integration process from its earliest beginnings, and an institution — the Commission — that Italy has always seen as the heart (together with the Strasbourg Parliament) of a supranational Europe?

Objective discussions and clarifications of the real differences to be overcome are possible and necessary, and they must take place in a climate of mutual respect, avoiding heated outbursts. Reasonable agreements can certainly be reached, above all with the Commission, even on the interpretation, application and simplification of the major rules.

Over the years, Italy has given the European Commission in Brussels men of true European mettle — men who have served as guides or occupied positions of great responsibility. First and foremost among these is, of course, Altiero Spinelli, who served as a European Commissioner from 1970 to 1976. Furthermore, a considerable number of Europe’s finest civil servants and diplomats have been Italian, while the ruling class of the Italian Republic has produced numerous individuals who stand out for their dignity and authoritativeness in their dealings with the European institutions. The records show that the contribution of Italy, especially during its presidencies of the EU, has been decisive in a number of crucial moments for the advancement of European integration.

Italy has been and indeed remains, more than ever, the country best equipped to give voice to the needs of the European integration process and propose the most effective solutions for helping this to advance: this it has been and, in collaboration with its equally motivated partners, this it will continue to be, both within the European institutions we know, and within those that will evolve in the future. The powerful speech given by the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, in Strasbourg, and the daily manifestations of his (which is also our) Europeanism show that this unwavering commitment is expressed and defended at the very highest level.

It is in the light of these considerations that Italy’s European partners should view the criticisms advanced by our country, and its reservations over decisions it does not share. After all, Italy remains increasingly called upon to address and pursue, in a positive and proactive manner, general objectives, and not just ones that are purely in the national interest. It is, of course, crucial not to lose sight of the great and original objectives running through the story of European unification: that of the pursuit and affirmation of the common European good, the consolidation of a “de facto solidarity” and the establishment of mutual trust among all the states of a united Europe. In our present times of alarming centrifugal tendencies, we must ensure that the historical link between the founding countries, especially the major ones (Italy, Germany and France), remains solid. This is indeed the decisive factor in our capacity to withstand any shock, to push European unification forward, and to ensure that the objectives set by the five presidents, and the commitments set out by the Commission, from the plan of investments in joint European projects to the Energy Union, are actually realised, and not left hanging in mid-air.

To this end, we must pursue a close understanding between the leaderships of the leading and most European-minded states, focusing, first and foremost, on the priority issue of how to manage the current migratory flows. This will allow us to implement, finally, the lines of conduct that have already been defined, namely to combine hospitality with security rather than setting the two in opposition, especially in the context of vigilance against terrorism, and without undermining the fundamental system introduced by the Schengen Agreement or jeopardising the inalienable achievement that is the freedom of movement of persons in Europe.

And we must not hesitate to pursue even bolder advances, towards a political union, a fiscal union, and common government of economic recovery and development policies, with the ultimate aim of institutionalising — for this some clarification will be required also within the eurozone — the area comprising those countries that intend to move towards ever closer union, regulating their relations with the other EU member states. Advances of this kind can potentially gain consensus among those citizens, especially in Europe’s main founding countries, who retain a deep of feeling of Europeanness; consensus for these advances will emerge providing there also emerges a strong political will for unification driven by an honest, complete, clear and truthful account — something that, to date, has been lacking — of the extreme risks facing Europe today and in the future.

The time has come to shake off mutual prejudices and reject stereotypes, like the idea that the North of Europe is virtuous while the South is the continent’s millstone, and the image of Germany as dominant and Italy as unreliable. In Italy, we are, on different levels, resolving inconsistencies and overcoming longstanding structural delays. And as for the spectre of a German Europe (which only Hitler was capable of conceiving), it must be appreciated that no member state, whatever its objective weight and however apparent its influence, will ever be able to dominate or impose its hegemony within the European Union, without the Union itself coming to an end. Furthermore, there has long been a deep convergence of interests between Italy and Germany, and today, as Minister for Foreign Affairs Gentiloni has underlined, our two countries share common views and positions in areas such as foreign policy and migration. It is between our respective ruling classes and societies, at all levels, that we need to foster greater mutual understanding and an ongoing climate of cultural and human exchange.

I wish to end by going back to the point from which I started: the piece written by Altiero Spinelli in March 1986. It contains a vivid account of the meeting (organised in Milan by Spinelli, Rossi and Colorni on 27-28 August 1943, a week after Altiero was liberated) that resulted in the founding of the European Federalist Movement. The account brings out his wonderful personality, in which utopian passion was interwoven with political pragmatism and political realism.

As we have seen, the story of Spinelli and the movement he inspired is one of unpredictable developments and moments of consensus, ups and downs, great obstacles, recurrent uncertainties and crucial tests. To follow his example, we must — if we believe in Europe — now be driven by a sense of urgency and a readiness to act to implement decisions for which the time is now more than ripe, and also by a sense of the historical significance of the undertaking ahead: to complete the transition from a Europe of nation-states wielding absolute sovereignty, spewing nationalist poison and dogged by internal wars to a united Europe with strong, supranational, federally inclined institutions.

“Anyone who embarks on a great enterprise” — this is Altiero Spinelli’s final message — “does so in order to give something to his contemporaries and to himself, but in truth no one really knows whether he is actually doing it for them and for himself, or for them and their children [...] or instead for a more distant generation, still to be born, who will discover his unfinished work and make it their own”.

Altiero Spinelli worked for us and also for generations much younger than both his generation and indeed my own. With wisdom, he showed us the courageous course of action at every critical juncture, and, in the long term, the value of unwavering tenacity. We remain inhis debt.

 


* This is a translation of the speech delivered by the Emeritus President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, on 22 January, 2016, in the Sala Zuccari of the Italian Senate. The occasion was a ceremony during which he was presented with the “Riconoscimento Altiero Spinelli”, an award conferred by the European Federalist Movement on individuals deemed key contributors to the building of a federal Europe. The ceremony was attended by the President of the Republic and the President of the Senate.

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