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.

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  1. Thank you Mr Corbett for this post.
    Since the start of that disgraceful referendum campaign, I’ve been disgusted and heartbroken over the reduction of the whole EU project to a handful of economic indicators and acronyms very few care about.

    Many have failed to point out the noble ideals behind the EU, thus playing in the hands of those who see it simply as a vehicle for capitalism to prevail over national interests.

  2. Thank you Richard. I confess I did not know about Ventotene. As a confirmed European, greatly saddened by the lemming-like decision in June, I am interested to see that the EU was conceived in 1941, as was I.

  3. The most generous interpretation is that the BBC is currently ran by the “Educated – Ignorant”. A less generous interpretation, is that the BBC has been politicised, acting as part of the ministry of propaganda and misinformation, albeit in this case by omission.

  4. Your point is well made. Whenever I have talked to people about Europe I have told them that my starting point is precisely that since the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which developed into the Common Market, there has been cooperation between France and Germany and no general war in Europe for 70 years. Our input to EU finances is a price worth paying to help to preserve that peace.

  5. Richard,

    Spinelli later said that reflecting on his own intellectual formation attributed much to the “clean precise thinking of English federalists” (quoted in Hugo Young’s This Blessed Plot. Those were the days!

  6. Excellent piece. Would that the BBC would use its mission to inform more. Sorry though that you believe Owen Smith the better choice.

  7. Lovely. If only they had encompassed the ideals of democracy as well, then this would have been a terrific ideal. Imposing bureaucracy on the population of Europe just isn’t acceptable.

  8. As a Liberal Democrat, sadly it’s not often that I am able to offer fulsome praise to a Labour parliamentarian, but this is an excellent piece on the origins of the EU and why it matters that we should be part of it. Thank you, Richard Corbett.

  9. Thank you Richard for informing us of such vital information regarding the venue chosen for the meeting. It confirms what I have suspected for a long time that the BBC is far from independent in its broadcasting and is nowhere near as reliable as it used to be.

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