Friday 21. February 2020

Steering by sight

After Brexit, the leaders of Germany, France and Italy met together twice this summer, first in Berlin and then on Ventotene Island. Their aim: to chart a new course for the European Union.

Summer is a good month for weighing anchor and sailing off to discover new horizons or conquer new lands. Everybody knows that it was in the middle of August 1492 that Christopher Columbus sailed off on board the Santa María to conquer the New World.


By contrast, this summer of 2016 presented no new land on the horizon for the good ship “Europe”, which is looking less and less like one of the proud conquering vessels captained by Columbus, Magellan and Cartier. Sadly, the vessel of “Europe” is looking more and more like a ghost ship, still just about afloat but on the verge of becoming “doomed to roam the seas and oceans for eternity” like the legendary Flying Dutchman.


There can be no doubt that it was the absence during this past decade of any defined course or master at the helm, and also due to steering by autopilot, that has prompted the British to jump ship from the “Europe” by choosing to go Brexit last June.


Facing down the risk of shipwreck and blocking the vessel of Europe from sharing the tragic fate of the Raft of the Medusa, Angela Merkel, Matteo Renzi and François Hollande decided on 22 August to travel to the Mediterranean island of Ventotene.


It was on this small island off the shore of Naples that Altiero Spinelli had been interned from 1939 together with other opponents of the Fascist regime. This young Italian militant Communist had been sentenced in 1927 to 16 years of prison by the Mussolini government. It was here that he wrote, together with Ernesto Rossi, the Ventotene Manifesto For a free and united Europe.


During his life in captivity, as also was the case for Schuman, Adenauer and de Gasperi, Spinelli was struck with the need to build a united Europe. However, his radical analysis went much further than that of the other Founding Fathers.  In his manifesto he denounced the “absolute sovereignty” of European States, each one having become “a divine entity, an organism which must only consider its own existence and its own development”, thereby transforming their citizens into “vassals bound into servitude” and fighting for domination over the other States.


Between the “pitiful impotence of democrats” and the failure of socialism – two political choices which in his opinion lead both to reactionism – Spinelli’s view is that progress resides in the “definitive abolition of the division of Europe into national sovereign States” through creating a “solid international State”, the European federation.


In his manifesto dated June 1941, when World War II was at its height, Altiero Spinelli put forward his idea of building a steady federal State, that will have at its disposal a European armed service instead of national armies; that will break decisively economic autarchies, the backbone of totalitarian regimes; that will have sufficient means to see that its deliberations for the maintenance of common order are executed in the individual 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 the various peoples.”


Neither Spinelli’s vision nor his project have lost an ounce of relevance in the early years of the 21st century. Now more than ever, Europe finds herself confronted by the major global actors: the world financial sector, the virtual economy, massive migrations and also the equally global threats of climate change and international terrorism.


To steer a course through these troubled waters, the intergovernmental system of navigation adopted over the past few years by our Heads of European States has turned out to be utterly ineffective: uncoordinated, far too short-sighted, timed to keep pace with successive elections in each of the Member States. Not only that – Mrs Merkel and Messrs Hollande and Renzi are themselves just about to face difficult national elections. We can only hope that they will manage to waste no more time in defining a course for the good ship “Europe” that can be navigated by their successors.


Johanna Touzel



Translated from the original text in French

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