Altiero Spinelli

Altiero Spinelli

Altiero Spinelli (31 August 190723 May 1986) was an Italian citizen and advocate of European federalism; sometimes referred to as one of the "Founding Fathers of the European Union" due to his strong influence on the first few decades of post-World War II European integration. By the time of his death, he had been a Member of the European Commission for 6 years, a Member of the European Parliament for ten years and had remained prominent on the European political scene through the Crocodile Club, which he co-founded.

Early life

Spinelli was born in Rome, and joined the Italian Communist Party (PCI) at an early age. Following his entry into radical journalism and the rise of Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party, he was arrested in 1927 and spent ten years in prison and a further six in confinement. During the war he was interned on the island of Ventotene (in the Gulf of Gaeta) along with some eight hundred political opponents of the regime.

Ventotene Manifesto

In June 1941, Spinelli and a small group of fellow prisoners completed the Ventotene Manifesto, a document in support of a new European federalist movement. Because of a need for secrecy and a lack of proper materials at the time, the Manifesto was written on cigarette papers and concealed in the false bottom of a tin box. It was then circulated through the Italian Resistance, and was later adopted as the programme of the Movimento Federalista Europeo, which Spinelli founded in August 1943. The Manifesto has since been published in Italian and a number of other languages.

The Manifesto puts forward proposals for creating a European federation of states, the primary aim of which was to tie European countries so closely together that they would no longer be able to go to war with one another. As in many European left-wing political circles, this sort of move towards federalist ideas was argued as a reaction to the destructive excesses of nationalism. The ideological underpinnings for a united Europe can thus be traced to the hostility of nationalism.

European politician

Early in the life of the European Community, Spinelli became an Italian representative on the European Commission from 1970 to 1976, taking responsibility for industrial policy. Spinelli was frustrated by France in 1954, when it opposed plans to create a European Defence Community, which he had supported and contributed towards, together with Alcide De Gasperi.

Having finished his period on the Commission, Spinelli decided to run for the European Parliament as an independent candidate on the list of the Italian Communist Party. He was elected in the first direct elections to the EP in 1979.

During the following years, one would often see him in restaurant Crocodile in Strasbourg, where he continued to explain why the European federation is a necessary thing. The federalist proposal of the "Crocodile Club", of which Spinelli was a co-founder, soon prevailed among the members of the European Parliament.

Spinelli thought that the European Parliament should act as a constituent assembly. This actually happened on 14 February 1984, when the European Parliament adopted the Draft Treaty Establishing the European union, the drafter of which had been Spinelli himself. The decision was taken with 237 votes for and 31 against (43 absent).

While that text was not adopted by the member states, it triggered the negotiations and provided the impetus for the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty (which established the European Union).[1][2]

The Single European Act, which was later adopted by the governments, was not a constitution but an enlarged free trade treaty.

In 1993, one of the buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels was dedicated the Altiero Spinelli Building in honour of his lifetime of work toward building the European community (it commonly abbreviated as the ASP building).


Piero S. Graglia, Altiero Spinelli, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2008

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