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The European project, the history with all its spots and blemishes

When we look at the history of what is now the European Union, but may one day be a more ambitious federation or confederation, it often seems that the present is where we begin and end our knowledge and opinions. At present some of the political stability in the EU distracts from the real picture of a continent that is at peace for a longer period than for more than a millennium.

With the exception of the Seven Years War, which is historically the first great global conflict fought between 1756 and 63 thus should be considered the first world war rather than the 1914 to 18 one. It involved every European major power of that time, saw warfare in most of Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India and the Philippines. It split Europe into two alliances, the UK with Prussia, Portugal, Hanover and several other small German states against France allied with the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, Bourbon Spain, and Sweden. It was perhaps the one single most influential event in beginning to shape modern Europe, although the idea of a united continent was by no means a new idea.

There have been models of union before, great empires that include Rome, Persia, Ancient Greece, the Mongols, the Arabs, Napoléon Bonparte’s Europe, so too Hitler’s attempt to build a global Third Reich, the British Empire and the formation of nations including the Swiss Confederation, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the unification of Italy and Germany and countless others. Each provides a lesson, some providing the clues about how to achieve it and others saying exactly what and how not to do.  Here I shall attempt to look at how we have arrived at where we are and key influences and players.

La bella Italia, don’t knock it!

I am not specifically writing about Italy or Italians, but they are my beginning and part of the end in this case. Too often we see all things Italian as something of a bad joke, if anything will go wrong it must be the people with that funny accent who are saying “You wanna a da pizza an’ a da ice a da creama” in English language comedy films. I need to tread lightly there, I am married to an italophone, not Italian but Swiss I might add. Beyond the humour there is a truth that has given us much of the political world we know, especially here in Europe. It is the country that gave us the father of political science and theory, Niccolò Machiavelli, whose book Il Principe has informed and inspired since 1513 and given us the concept of being Machiavellian, in some way like his fictional prince based on members of the Medici family in the Florentine Republic. His writings have been said to be an inspiration to Enlightenment proponents of modern democratic political philosophy, although he is most associated with political deceit, deviousness and realpolitik, whereby unscrupulous politicians of the sort he described morally reprehensible behaviour, such as fraudulence, corruption and murdering innocent people as a normal and effective method in politics. He lived in the Florentine Republic, which along with the Republic of Venice, is among the birthplaces of modern capitalism and the development of wealthy elitist domination of entire populations. Florence was where the Renaissance began in the 14 century and lasted almost 300 years. It was  the period during which the intellectual basis of humanism and revival of classical Greek philosophy began to generate new ways of thinking that were expressed through art, architecture, literature, politics and science. The new intellectual freedom in turn contributed to the 16 century Reformation which contributed to the intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the thought in Europe during the 18 century, the Enlightenment.  It advanced ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state, religious tolerance, opposition to absolute monarchy and the immovable dogmas of Roman Catholicism. What began as a flowering of intellectual pursuits in the Florentine Republic was to begin to forge the path to modern Europe although much of what began there was never to be part of their development until the birth of modern Italy as a Unitarian state.

Italy was part of the early wave of countries with socialist parties toward the end of the 19 century, although they were not tolerated by the Italian government during their early years. In 1912, the Maximalists led by Benito Mussolini, who had been a leading member of the national directorate of the Partito Socialista Italiano, were victorious at the party convention which led to the split of the Italian Reformist Socialist Party. From 1912 to 1914, Mussolini headed the Bolshevik wing of PSI who purged the party of moderate or reformist socialists. He then denounced PSI, now becoming more focused on nationalism than socialism and later founded the fascist movement which came to oppose egalitarianism and class conflict, instead advocating revolutionary nationalism transcending class lines. Mussolini and his followers then consolidated power by passing laws that transformed the nation into a one party dictatorship, thus in less than five years established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means and set out to create a totalitarian state. Part of their method was political terror, a means adopted and developed with immense cruelty by their later allies, the German national socialist party founded by Adolf Hitler in 1920.

The birthplace of contrasts, contradictions and invaluable ideas

It is sometimes argued that political terror began with first century CE Sicarii zealots who assassinated collaborators with Roman rule in the province of Judea; not in what is now Italy, but perhaps introducing the notion of terrorism which is considered one of the earliest forms of an organised assassination group that used cloak and daggers and spread fear as far as Rome among the ruling elite. Political assassination was already no stranger to them, Julius Caesar having been slain in 44 BCE in Rome. He was not the only one in the ancient city, a tradition that was recalled in 1978 when Aldo Moro, the former prime minister of Italy, was kidnapped by Brigate Rosse terrorists who killed him around 55 days later.

Terror is also associated with criminal organisations whose influence has extended well beyond its Sicilian home. The Mafia, or Cosa Nostra as it is known in Sicily, is an informal association of criminal groups that shares a common organisational structure and code of conduct and include assassinations in their repertoire. Political activism, the syndicalisation and organisation of workers movements in Italy and further afield, especially the USA, began with collaboration between workers leagues (fasci) that were engaged in class struggle that were often strategic alliances between the fasci and  Mafia. Those leagues were not only led by socialists and anarchists but also some by local gentry and mafiosi The Mafia was occasionally required to enforce flying pickets with credible threats of violence and ways of making strikes expensive and untenable for landowners by destroying their property.

Organised crime taught political activists and terrorists not only how to operate covertly, but also how to form international networks and secret organisations. This also contributed to how one of the paths to modern federalism was born. One of the people sometimes regarded loosely as a founding father of European federalism was Giuseppe Mazzini who founded the secret Giovane Italia, or Young Italy, movement who was an impassioned advocate of Italian unification as a liberal republic through political and social reform. Giuseppe Garibaldi joined the society, took an oath with which he dedicated himself to the struggle to liberate and unify his homeland free from Austrian dominance for which he is considered a founding father of unified Italy in 1861. Garibaldi, along with Mazzini and other Europeans supported the creation of a European federation. Many Europeans expected a unified Germany to become a European and world leader and to champion humanitarian policies after their unification a decade later. Mazzini and Garibaldi were forerunners of such activists as Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi working toward a federal Europe.

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Giuseppe Mazzini

Mazzini was a nationalist with European federalist notions; he knew Giuseppe Verdi, best known for his operas, but also a supporter of the Risorgimento, Italian unification and it has been debated just how political his works were. Verdi’s main works during 1842–49 were especially germane to the struggle for independence and unification. Nabucco (1842), I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata (1843), Ernani (1844), Attila (1846), Macbeth (1847) and La Battaglia di Legnano (1848) are considered to bear overt political messages. Likewise, Falstaff (1893) was an adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s more ‘political’ plays. He was personally active in parts of the political events of the Risorgimento and elected to the first Italian parliament in 1861 at a time when music had become a political tool and many composers expressed ideals of freedom and equality. Whether he shared Mazzini’s vision beyond Italy is not apparent though.

Italy has its flaws, probably as a modern politician who despite his obvious corruption, dishonesty and overinflated ego, Silvio Berlusconi epitomises that more than most others. But then Beppe Grillo who is supposedly a comedian (who my wife says she has never found funny) formed a political party, Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement or M5S) in 2010 to promote his vision of political honesty and direct democracy, that has moved from a right wing alternative group within the essentially nationalist Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, that includes UKIP, to a left leaning, centrist party that then proposed to join the federalist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group, although eventually refused, all within less than eight years in existence. Grillo has now left M5S. Whilst doing some very basic research to write this I have learned much. It is well known that a politician in Italy will always be assumed to be a ladro, a thief by their public. One may have heard about corruption, crimes, association with criminal organisations, sex orgies and any manner of scandal imaginable. In fact, of necessity I have followed UK politics very closely for nearly two years and was well informed even before then. All of the worst that is supposed to be typical in Italy was ‘stolen’ when in April 2017 Italian mafia journalist and author Roberto Saviano said in a TV interview “The UK is already the most, without doubt, the most corrupt country in the world, not in terms of politics or police, but in terms of money laundering”; he told Euronews that NGO Transparency International had proved this “with incontrovertible data”. The Italian ladri have had their mantle stolen by British politicians.

Perhaps pizza, spaghetti, parmesan and gorgonzola, espresso and an array of superb desserts are among the many of the things Italy has contributed to the world that has drawn it closer together more than most other food worldwide. People worldwide now say “Ciao”, often not knowing its origins.  When we scratch beneath the surface of a country that is so often not taken seriously what we find is actually impressive. However, it is politics that above all else makes Italians interesting for me.

Give me the ready hand rather than the ready tongue.   

Giuseppe Garibaldi

I often watch sessions of the European Parliament when some of the more positive, articulate and intelligent contributors speak. I have little time for nitpicking critics, so it is often very concentrated time. I look forward to one particular speaker. Whenever the Italian MEP Gianni Pittella chips in, it tends to be pleasurable because he says, or at least I believe so, what he believes and envisions.

I have recently reread A brief history of the future of the United States of Europe that he wrote with Elido Fazi in 2012. It is certainly visionary, even if Brexit has been among the events that have dented their version of how Europe might one day be. It was the year in which Angela Merkel finally bit the bullet and accepted that the Euro was in trouble and the way to save it was to begin to work toward a genuine European ‘political union’, what might come to be the United States of Europe. It was also the year that François Hollande became the French president, at first projecting a notion that European social democracy was about to begin to break the back of neoliberal control of Europe and the austerity that had held the continent back. In fact, their guesswork there proved to be almost entirely wrong, in fact Hollande almost set Europe back many years by opening the political door to the hard right a little too wide. In France that door was slammed shut in 2017, but remains open elsewhere. Austerity has not eased as quickly and sometimes at all as predicted. However, political predictions are as fragile as crystal balls, which shatter when they fall, with what was seen in them lost.

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Giuseppe Garibaldi

Nonetheless, their vision was one that has continued at least conceptually to develop and yet again France appears to be a valuable contributor. That view was that a fiscal and monetary union cannot survive unless it is supported by a well developed federal state capable of and willing to cover the debts of individual member states. That would require the issue of Eurobonds that would need a federal treasury to control and sanction fiscal and monetary matters thus give the federal state the capability to be at the forefront of radical reform of the international monetary system. As Fazi and Pittella say, Europe cannot submit the rest of the world and itself to the overwhelming influence and control of global finance. Europe should be campaigning vigorously for an international agreement that puts an end to unfettered capital and finance flows. They express that by saying that tight regulation of financial traffic is as essential as air traffic controls now. Furthermore, they felt that Europe needs an ambitious, continent wide strategy to develop and improve employment. Their analysis is that neoliberal policies based on the principle that austerity comes first then encourages growth has failed massively, thus we need to return to what Keynes said when he turned that theory on its head so that it then read that investment creates savings, income and employment. That works thus; because employment depends on production and production responds to spending, the level of em­ployment in a market economy depends on the level of planned spending in an economy. In the classical economic model, the labour market determines the level of output, therefore the position of the vertical aggregate supply curve. Normally the aggregate supply curve is perfectly vertical, thus economists believe that any change in aggregate demand only causes a temporary change in an economy’s output. The long run aggregate supply curve can be moved when production changes levels of output. In fact, Keynes turned that order around from the classical model to one that Fazi and Pittella see as an antidote to the malaise Europe was in during the time they were writing and has as yet not improved. Keynes had been at the forefront of a revolution in economic thinking in which he challenged the neoclassical economic view that believed that free markets would automatically create full employment in the short to medium term on condition that workers’ wage demands were flexible.

The Ventotene Manifesto

Of course Fazi and Pittella are not using Keynes as their main point of reference for economic arguments. The foundations of their argument is what is commonly known as the Ventotene Manifesto (Per un’Europa libera e unita; in English For a Free and United Europe. A Draft Manifesto) written by Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi whilst interned on the island of Ventotene during WW2. Their socio-economic model was somewhat different to Keynes. In the Ventotene Manifesto it was drawn out of a liberal socialist mixed economic concept that, by combining a degree of public intervention with a free market system, that might successfully guarantee equal opportunities through a series well planned and supervised measures and reforms. Keynes was more concerned with the liberalisation of economies that accommodated state intervention. However, both envisioned a welfare state in which there would be public ownership of monopolies such as public utilities providing network services; Spinelli and Rossi additionally believed that concerns operating in strategic sectors should also be in public hands in order to prevent private monopolies from exploiting consumers and large businesses from influencing the management of public policies. The welfare model included a comprehensive system of social protection capable of guaranteeing a decent standard of living for even people in the most difficult circumstances that would not reduce their incentive to work and save. Unlike Keynes, Spinelli and Rossi believed there should be redistribution of wealth through agricultural and industrial reforms that reduced inequality through the provision of public education for all, a guaranteed balance between the demand and supply of work and relative convergence of pay levels in all occupations.

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Altiero Spinelli

In fact, the Keynesian version was closest to what was to one degree or another adopted by many countries after 1945, going into decline in the 1970s until some aspects of that economic approach reappeared in the short term during Barack Obama’s presidency of the USA, now being dropped by the Trump regime. The Ventotene Manifesto version has never entirely been adopted although it still underlies the original philosophy of what the EU is about. This has naturally caused consternation to those who are afraid of the possibility of there ever being a United States of Europe. Of course, in all socio-political stories there is above all else the influence of economics. Indeed, as a social anthropologist one of the fundaments of all human organisation that carried us away from our original state, through to waves of civilisation to the present has been economics. Without organised production of food, exchanges of what was produced whether by barter for other food or trade of other things, the production and specialised development of tools and many other artefacts that are the prototypes of everything we have today there would be no need to consider such issues as the unity of an entire continent. However, it happened and now some hundreds of thousands of years on we have reached a stage in civilisation where well organised societies fare best, the bigger and more cooperative their organisation is the more successful they will be.

The long and winding road to Ventotene began in the 19 century, but not just in Italy…

It is a vision much older than Spinelli and Rossi’s early idea. Historically we find a long line of ideas about a unified Europe that include George of Kunštát and Poděbrady, the Bohemian king and leader of the Hussites who expounded a  notion and attempted to establish common European institutions in 1464. Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully, is known for his ‘Grand Design’, a European confederation project that was progressively drawn up by him until his death in 1641. William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, suggested a ‘European Dyet, Parliament or Estates’ in 1693. It was said that George Washington supported the notion of a United States of Europe most certainly Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine had early internationalist vision. The historian and biographer of Bonaparte, Felix Markham, wrote that during a conversation during his confinement on St. Helena, Napoléon Bonaparte remarked: “Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between States would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility”. He also said of his failed conquest of Europe: “I wished to found a European system, a European Code of Laws, a European judiciary: there would be but one people in Europe”.  The Polish author Wojciech Jastrzębowski wrote About eternal peace between the nations, that was published in 1831 in which a project that consisted of 77 articles that envisaged a United States of Europe that would be an international organisation but not a super state. Giuseppe Mazzini, an activist for the unification of Italy and the man who inspired Giuseppe Garibaldi to look to a joined up future in Europe, was an early advocate of a United States of Europe who regarded European unification as a logical step following the unification of Italy and later Germany.

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.

Victor Hugo

Less well known for his politics than his brilliant books, but one of the most highly significant and influential advocates of a United States of Europe, was Victor Hugo who included the term as part of a speech at the International Peace Congress in Paris in 1849. Although an arch critic and adversary of the Bonapartists, particularly Louis Napoléon, the nephew and heir of Napoléon I who was to become Napoléon III, for which he had to go into exile until he was deposed and monarchy abolished, Hugo took on board the first Napoléon’s ideas about a united Europe. He championed the creation of “a supreme, sovereign senate, which will be to Europe what parliament is to England”, perhaps a prediction of the European Parliament we have today. In his speech he said that “A day will come when all nations on our continent will form a European brotherhood … we shall see … the United States of America and the United States of Europe face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas”. Part of his vision was to call for the end of misery and poverty everywhere, he called for universal suffrage, free education for all children and his advocacy of abolition of the death penalty gained international acclaim. He planted a tree in the grounds of the Maison de Hauteville, St. Peter Port on Guernsey where he lived whilst in exile and is said to have claimed that when the tree is mature the United States of Europe would have come into being. It is still growing in the gardens of the Maison de Hauteville. In 1867, Giuseppe Garibaldi and John Stuart Mill joined Victor Hugo at a congress of the League for Peace and Freedom in Geneva at which Mikhail Bakunin said that “in order to achieve the triumph of liberty, justice and peace in the international relations of Europe, and to render civil war impossible among the various peoples which make up the European family, only a single course lies open: to constitute the United States of Europe”. In 1871 French National Assembly declared a demand for a United States of Europe reflecting on Hugo’s ideas, less than a year after he returned from exile in 1870, upon which he was quickly elected to the National Assembly and Senate. Before his participation in the Russian revolution, Leon Trotsky predicted a ‘Federated Republic of Europe — the United States of Europe’ that he said would be created by the proletariat, very much influenced by Bakunin and Hugo’s version of a unified Europe.

… to continue into the 20 century and the beginning of a European project

In the wake of WW1 the notion of a politically unified Europe rose again. Austrian-Japanese Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi founded the Pan-Europa Movement in 1923 and hosted the First Pan-European Congress in Vienna in 1926 that was based on the principles of liberalism and social responsibility with Christianity at its core. Until that point in time, most of the ideas had been about a politically unified Europe in which peace was assured and whilst the wellbeing of people within its boundaries was a paramount concern, there was little said about the economic status of the United States of Europe.

That was to change in 1929 when Aristide Briand, Prime Minister of France, delivered a speech to the Assembly of the League of Nations in which he proposed the notion of a federation of European nations based on solidarity and in pursuit of economic prosperity as well as political and social cooperation. John Maynard Keynes was one of the most eminent intellectuals who supported his view. When requested by the League of Nations, Briand presented a Memorandum on the organisation of a system of European Federal Union in 1930. The next year, 1931, British civil servant Arthur Salter French politician and three times Prime Minister Édouard Herriot both wrote books bearing the title The United States of Europe. During the 1930s, Winston Churchill was influenced by and became a promoter of the ideas of Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi and his Pan-European Union. He did not advocate Britain’s membership of that union at the time until he revisited it in 1946. Following WW1 he had seen continental Europe as a source of threats and sought to avoid Britain’s involvement in further conflicts. On 15 February 1930, Churchill commented on the subject for the first time in an American magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, that a ‘European Union’ was possible for the continental nations without Britain’s involvement. He wrote: “We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonality. But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.” There has been a frequent tendency to misquote his words: “We are with Europe, but not of it” to one of his later speeches. Conservative Eurosceptics usually find it hard to accept, but Churchill would never have joined them in their attempts to pull the UK out of the EU. His generally pro-European position was adopted by all Conservative leaders from Macmillan to Major. The present dilemma of negotiating the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from membership should have inspired the ostensibly pro-EU David Cameron to bear in mind Churchill’s words from 1957 for inspiration whilst trying to negotiate changes and reforms to accommodate the wishes of his party: “We genuinely wish to join a European free trade area – and if our continental friends wish to reach agreement, I am quite sure a way can be found and that reasonable adjustments can be made to meet the essential interests of all”. Having joined that union with some effort, agreement having been reached in 1973, what led to the referendum that brought about Brexit should never have been necessary.

The key players, influences and the rights and wrongs of bringing countries together

The twentieth century was the crucible of the world as we know it. A number of people stand out for their influence, good or bad, during that century. Primarily we find Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was president of the USA from 1933 until his death in office in 1945; Joseph Stalin, Soviet dictator from 1924 until 1952; Adolf Hitler, German dictator from 1933 until his death in 1945; and Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the UK from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. In lesser roles but also very influential there was also Benito Mussolini, elected as Prime Minster of Italy in 1923 who assumed the position of dictator from 1925 until his death in 1945; Charles de Gaulle, leader of Free France, 1940-44, head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, 1944-46 and 1958-69, President of France and founder of the Fifth Republic; and Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China from 1949 until his death in 1976. Others such as John F. Kennedy gained high reputations, but none of them was quite as influential as the first four named.

Hitler probably stands out from the rest. He led a fairly recently defeated Germany from a depressed and, in good part occupied and broken up, country into a dictatorship that at times had the potential for achieving the world dominance he desired. During WW2, following the victories of Nazi Germany in 1940, Wilhelm II the Kaiser who had abdicated at the end of WW1 and was exiled in the Netherlands said that “The hand of God is creating a new world and working miracles. … We are becoming the United States of Europe under German leadership, a united European Continent”. He was at the end of his life, a disillusioned and bitter old man who died less than a year later who perhaps could not see the cruelty of the Nazi regime. However one looks on his words there is a note of truth in that. Stalin had taken control of a still unstable Soviet Union when Vladimir Lenin died in 1924. He used a brutal and strict controlling regime to consolidate the countries of the former Russian Tsarist empire, began to expand influence and control, contributed greatly to the defeat of Germany in 1945, thus begin the expansion of the Soviet bloc and its sphere of influence until it collapsed in1989. Roosevelt was notable for his vision of a world at peace after the end of WW2, something he was never to see but was to leave became the United Nations and other influences on attempts to consolidate world peace. Winston Churchill was a visionary who saw a united Europe as the future, then saw the UK’s empire begin to crumble thus moved from a position in which he did not include the UK within that Europe to one in which they played a central role.

The other men are influential because of what some of their actions led to. Mussolini did not rule Italy as his close ally Hitler did Germany. Hence some of the most visionary people in Europe at that time were Italians but survived to advance their causes. The exceptions included Antonio Gramsci and Eugenio Colorni. Gramsci was imprisoned from 1926 until a short time before his death in 1937. His Marxist analysis led to rethought of and break away from the economic determinism of traditional Marxist thought that heavily influenced the change of direction of many socialist and social democratic parties after 1945. Colorni was one of the main supporters of the Ventotene Manifesto and an early leader of the European Federalist Movement. In 1938 he was arrested for anti-fascist political activities, escaped but was killed a Nazi ambush in Rome in 1944, just before the Allies arrived. Spinelli and Rossi, on the other hand, did survive imprisonment and although exiled to Ventotene, were able to learn and contribute to the future through what they had experienced. De Gaulle was in his way one of the early stalwarts of what has become the EU as it is, but fearing the UK was a Trojan horse for the USA kept them at arm’s length until after his resignation and death; Mao was important because of the Chinese revolution and the way it added to the tensions already caused by the Soviet Union in world politics that continue to some extent to the present.

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Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini

Paramount is that examples of unions have been exposed by all of the four principle players. Hitler and Stalin were dictators of unions gained by cruel and unscrupulous methods that should never be employed again, Churchill governed whilst an empire was begin to very rapidly fall apart, one that perhaps provides experience both good and bad for a federal Europe but also shows how not to govern such a body and Roosevelt governed the USA at probably its major crossroads when it went from a liberal and liberating state that is itself a union to being a belligerent force that has managed to supplant itself in many parts of the world. Those are all lessons for the EU to learn from before ever moving toward federalism. Yet among them it is ironic that at this moment in time it is Churchill who was cautious about UK involvement, was very aware of the risk of being left behind. In 1951 he warned of “disadvantages and even dangers to us in standing aloof”, when expressing his regret that the UK had not joined discussions on setting up a European army which he had proposed in Strasbourg in 1950. He also hoped that the UK would join the European Coal and Steel Community that was to become the European Economic Community and in chain the EU. He never shared the obsessions of today’s Eurosceptics with national sovereignty and disassociating himself from European federalism, emphasised the fact that some form of political unity would be required. He addressed the implications of the UK opting to participate in 1950 as opposition leader when he said that both Liberals and Conservatives were “prepared to consider, and if convinced to accept, the abrogation of national sovereignty, provided that we are satisfied with the conditions and the safeguards”. It is unimaginable that a senior Tory or their leader could say anything comparable today whilst the UK is torn apart by Brexit.

The first calls to begin to draw Europe together toward everlasting peace

In 1946 Churchill delivered his famous speech at the University of Zurich in which he advocated a United States of Europe in which urged Europeans to turn their backs on the horrors of the past and look to the future. He was quite clear then that the UK would be a friend and ally with the Commonwealth at its side. In 1948, in The Hague, 800 delegates from all European countries met, Churchill was honorary president with Konrad Adenauer, Harold Macmillan, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, François Mitterrand, Paul Reynaud, Édouard Daladier, Paul Ramadier, Paul van Zeeland, Albert Coppé and Altiero Spinelli taking part in a grand Congress of Europe. This meeting created the Council of Europe that formally came into existence in 1949; further integration was later agreed on during the Messina Conference in 1955, leading to the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was drafted in 1950 by the newly formed Council of Europe and entered into force in September 1953. Additionally, the European Court of Human Rights was created in 1959 about 10 years after Churchill first suggested it be formed to complement the ECHR. He consequently became a driving force behind European integration and an active fighter for its cause who is honoured as one of its founding fathers. Churchill’s views later changed as the empire and commonwealth diminished, thus the UK’s world influence lessened.

He made his last speech about Europe at London’s Central Hall in Westminster during July 1957, about four months after the six founding nations had established the European Economic Community (EEC) by signing the Treaty of Rome.  He welcomed the formation of the ‘common market’ by the six, provided that ‘the whole of free Europe will have access’.  Churchill added, ‘we genuinely wish to join’. Whilst doing so he added the rider: “If, on the other hand, the European trade community were to be permanently restricted to the six nations, the results might be worse than if nothing were done at all – worse for them as well as for us. It would tend not to unite Europe but to divide it – and not only in the economic field”.  During the 1960s whilst his health rapidly declined his support for a united Europe increased. His last Private Secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Brown, said that in August 1961, Churchill wrote to his constituency chairman to say: “I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community..” With Churchill’s endorsement, what is now the EU had the potential to become the most powerful union in the world, possibly eclipse the USA and Soviet Union, however the UK have never played the role he envisioned. To some extent it has held back the closer union that is one of the founding principles of the EU through its inclusion in the Treaty of Rome.

Taking a step back, we remember that in 1950 French foreign minister Robert Schuman had produced The Schuman Declaration written for him by Paul Reuter, then edited by and published as co-written with Jean Monnet who inspired the document that proposed to place French and German production of coal and steel under a common authority within a European community. In 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) began to unite European countries economically and politically with the intent of securing lasting peace. The six founding countries Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands all signed the Treaty of Rome to create the EEC in March 1957. Whilst only six countries at first, the long term proposition was immediately to expand, a process that really began in 1969 when Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the UK applied for membership. Norway did not, but the others did. This expanded to the present 28 when Croatia joined in 2013 The EU has prioritised membership for other Balkan states. According to the Copenhagen criteria, laid down at the 1993 European Council, membership of the EU is open to any European country that is a stable, free market liberal democracy that values and upholds the rule of law and human rights. Furthermore, they have to be willing to accept all the obligations of membership, such as adopting previously agreed law (acquis communautaire) and adopting the Euro.

The early statesmen involved with setting up and the early years of the ECSC then EEC, Konrad Adenauer and Walter Hallstein of West Germany, Joseph Bech of Luxembourg, Johan Beyen and Sicco Mansholt of the Netherlands, Alcide De Gasperi and Altiero Spinelli of Italy, Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium along with Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet of France from within the original membership with Salvador de Madariaga of Spain and Winston Churchill of the UK supporting it, are acknowledged as the fathers of Europe. Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, Giuseppe Mazzini and Victor Hugo are considered ro be contenders for sharing that honour for their earlier vision.

Five centuries of an idea before the ball began to roll

What started as a set of different ideas over many centuries from George of Kunštát and Poděbrady in 1464 to the ideas propounded by Spinelli and Rossi, later by Schuman and Monnet with the influences of ideas as diverse as Hugo, von Coudenhove-Kalergi, Churchill and Napoléon have gone through various phases in which political, social and economic concepts have been paramount, however the ever present core matter is unity and peace. Spinelli lived long enough to see much of his work and ideals begin to be made real, although there is still far to go and even then the Ventotene Manifesto is unlikely ever to be fulfilled as originally conceived. Similarly, Gianni Pittella and his co-writer Elido Fazi’s A brief history of the future of the United States of Europe book, although published as recently as 2012, may be proven very wrong. It reminds us that the EU is an economics based union, a free trade area, but that in line with the sentiments expressed in the preamble of the Treaty of Rome is also a social and political union. The present upsurge of right wing and nationalist political parties, indeed those in government, was not foreseen, as of course Brexit was not part of the agenda at that time. It is not that they were wrong; it was perhaps that they did not have a ‘crystal ball’ to guide their choice of words.

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However, when Pittella speaks it is clear than the vision and commitment have not changed, it is merely detail that is wrong, much of it brought about by political changes that could not have been predicted six years ago and the absurd decision of the UK to leave the EU, thus turn its back on the base principle of unity and peace on our continent. Italy has played a central, in fact a leading role, in the convergence of Europe. Whether one begins with Machiavelli, Mazzini, Garibaldi, jumps forward to Spinelli and Rossi or further to Fazi and Pittella, the political history and projection we often associate with other nations often points back to Italy. There are outspoken advocates of a more united Europe that include the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the leader of the German SPD, Martin Schulz, and the European Parliament’s representative on matters relating to Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt. Yet whilst Verhofstadt is delivering often charged speeches in the parliament, one often sees Gianni Pittella sitting attentively listening nearby. He speaks less frequently than others, yet when he does with eloquence and great knowledge, one almost hears the shadows of great men like Hugo, Garibaldi, Mazzini, Coudenhove-Kalergi, Churchill and Spinelli behind him applauding. He is one of the heirs of the founding fathers. We need many more visionaries of his calibre.

There is a closing note I must add. It is not meant to be an apology, but it is that this history is all about men. There are clearly women who need to be honoured as well, but I leave that to others to do so more competently than I could ever do. In following the most direct line through history, it is men who appear to predominate, mostly older men at that. History often appears to mainly be written around the lives and actions of men. There are women like German antifascist Ursula Hirschmann who should be included. She was married to Eugenio Colorni until his death in 1944, then Altiero Spinelli until his death in 1986, founded the Association Femmes pour l’Europe in 1975, and bore children by both men, including Eva Colorni who is married to the economist Amartya Sen and Barbara Spinelli who is now an MEP. Therefore, in order to open up this story, I throw down the gauntlet of challenge to those of you who can tell the story of the contribution of women and the young respectively. I have used Italy as a core theme for a particular reason which is unlikely to be the same for Italian women who, with few exceptions like Lucrezia Borgia, are missing.

Ursula_Hirschmann.jpeg-700x460

Ursula Hirschmann

I am, however, closing with words by Giuseppe Mazzini in which the words ‘man’ and ‘he’ should be understood generically, thus:

The epoch of individuality is concluded, and it is the duty of reformers to initiate the epoch of association. Collective man is omnipotent upon the earth he treads.

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