The BBC reported last night on the summit meeting of the leaders of France, Germany and Italy on the island of Ventotene – but without explaining the significance of the venue!
It is yet another example of the British media not fully reporting European affairs.
Why is Ventotene symbolic? Because it is where, in 1941, anti-fascist resistance leaders, imprisoned by Mussolini, drafted the Ventotene Manifesto (entitled ”For a Free and United Europe. A Draft Manifesto’), regarded as the founding document of the movement to European unity after the war.
It was written by Altiero Spinelli (after whom the main European Parliament building in Brussels is now named) and Ernesto Rossi. It was written clandestinely on cigarette papers and smuggled out of the internment camp.
In it, they argued that if the struggle against fascism in Europe was successful (itself far from certain in 1941), it would nonetheless fail if it simply led to the reestablishment of the old system of sovereign states in shifting alliances – because that would one day lead again to war. What was needed was to establish a framework that brought the countries of Europe together, pooling sovereignty, developing common interests, and making war among them unthinkable.
Completed in June 1941, the Manifesto was circulated within the Italian Resistance, and then on to other resistance movements in Europe. Spinelli (1907–86) became leader of the European federalist movement, calling for a break with Europe’s past of regular violent conflict between nations.
Holding yesterday’s summit here, just two months after the brexit referendum, was a restatement of the fundamental values that led to the creation of the European Union. It was a reminder of how Europe is not just about trade and economics, but has deeper significance, bringing the peoples of Europe together in peace, not just through loose and bureaucratic intergovernmental coordination, but a framework in which citizens, businesses, organisations, consumers and others can work together across borders.
As in anything, there have been shortcomings. But the noble ideal behind European unity remains as valid as ever.