At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Altiero Spinelli - political visionary

Drafted plan for European Union while in Fascist jail


Altiero Spinelli devoted his life to the creation of a  European Union as a force for peace
Altiero Spinelli devoted his life to the creation of a
European Union as a force for peace
Altiero Spinelli, a politician who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the European Union, was born on this day in 1907 in Rome.

A lifelong Communist who was jailed for his opposition to the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, he spent much of the Second World War in confinement on the island of Ventotene in the Tyrrhenian Sea, one of an archipelago known as the Pontine Islands.

It was there that he and two prisoners, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni, agreed that if the forces of Fascism in Italy and Germany were defeated, the only way to avoid future European wars was for the sovereign nations of the continent to join together in a federation of states.

The document they drew up, which became known as the Ventotene Manifesto, was the first document to argue for a European constitution and formed the basis for the Movimento Federalista Europeo, which Spinelli, Rossi and some 20 others launched at a secret meeting in Milan as soon as they were able to leave their internment camp.

An official mugshot of Spinelli taken during his confinement on Ventotene
An official mugshot of Spinelli taken
during his confinement on Ventotene
In a nutshell, the Ventotene Manifesto put forward proposals for creating a European federation of states so closely joined together they would no longer be able to go to war with one another. It argued that if all of the European countries retained their complete national sovereignty in the post-war landscape then the possibility of a Third World War would still exist even if the Nazi attempt to establish the domination of the German race in Europe was defeated.

Throughout the 40s and 50s, Spinelli’s MFE was in the vanguard of the drive for European integration and Spinelli himself, who was elected as a Communist MEP in 1979, its most powerful voice.

By stages, he persuaded the Italian government and then the European Parliament of the wisdom of his proposals and his draft document, known as the Spinelli Plan, became the basis for the Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which formally agreed the establishment of a European Union.

Spinelli himself lived to see none of these developments. His health declined in his late 70s and he died in a Rome clinic in May at the age of 78.

However, his legacy was recognised when the main building of the European Parliament in Brussels was named after him in 1999.

Spinelli was buried on the island of  Ventotene, where his memory is preserved
Spinelli was buried on the island of
Ventotene, where his memory is preserved
Although born in Rome, Spinelli spent his early years in Brazil, where his father was the Italian Vice-Consul. On returning home he joined the Italian Communist Party at the age of 17 in 1924, the year of the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, with Fascism now in power and Communists forced underground.

He was arrested in Milan in June 1927, when the Fascists introduced legislation outlawing political opponents. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison.

After a decade, he was transferred to Rome and was led to believe he would be released, only to be told he was instead being transferred to confinement status, first on the island of Ponza, later on Ventotene, a smaller island midway between Ponza and Ischia, off the coast of Naples.

His release eventually came in 1943, after Mussolini had been expelled by the Fascist Grand Council and arrested on the orders of the king, Victor Emmanuel III. 

Ponza has some beautiful coastline and was once a haunt for movie stars and other celebrities
Ponza has some beautiful coastline and was once a haunt
for movie stars and other celebrities
Travel tip:

The island of Ponza has had a chequered history. Inhabited from neolithic to Roman times, it was abandoned during the middle ages due to frequent attacks by Saracens and pirates and not recolonised until the 18th century. Due to its remoteness, it was used as penal colony by several regimes in addition to the Fascists. Mussolini himself was confined there for a brief period after his arrest in 1943. In more recent years, it was developed for tourism and became a fashionable resort for celebrities, including Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. It has become less attractive since the death of several tourists due to falling rocks led to the permanent closure of the main beach, Chiaia di Luna, although there are many other smaller beaches and several picturesque bays.

The picturesque harbour on the island of Ventotene
The picturesque harbour on the island of Ventotene
Travel tip:

Closer to the mainland than Ponza and therefore more easy to reach, Ventotene attracts many tourists during the summer months but remains in some ways a permanent monument to Spinelli, who was returned to the island following his death and interred in the churchyard of the Parrocchia Santa Candida Vergine e Martire. The former prison has been converted into colorful summer homes and visitors can even sleep in Spinelli’s old apartment.  In 2016, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi met with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Fran├žois Hollande on the island, where they laid a wreath at the Spinelli’s tomb and staged a mini-summit meeting to discuss the future of the EU following the referendum staged in Britain.

More reading:

Victor Emmanuel III appoints Mussolini as prime minister

The murder of Giacomo Matteotti

How Alcide de Gasperi rebuilt Italy


Also on this day:

1834: The birth of opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli

1900: The birth of Gino Lucetti, anarchist famous for botched attempt to kill Mussolini


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