Reflections on Ventotene 2021

Updated: Oct 29, 2021


View from the main beach at Ventotene.
View from the main beach at Ventotene.

The Ventotene International Seminar is a conference of young European and world federalists on a tiny island in the central Italian region of Lazio. The island of Ventotene holds historical significance for the European federalist movement as it was there in 1941 when imprisoned revolutionary, Alterio Spinelli, drafted the Ventotene Manifesto. Spinelli would go on to lead the movement for the European federation and even sit in the European parliament for around 10 years before his death in 1986.


The Ventotene International Seminar began around 40 years ago and serves as a meeting place for young European federalists from around the region to meet, learn, and have fun at the beach. The seminar is organized by the Young European Federalists (JEF) and the Altiero Spinelli Institute of Federalist Studies. A contingent of world federalists have traditionally been invited and sent by the World Federalist Movement in the past, however, due to WFM’s financial crisis, they were unable to send anyone this year. Rather, the Young World Federalists sent me, the President of YWF, and Democracy Without Borders sent Tomás Molina.


During my week on the island, I met with many European federalists, discussed topics of European integration, learned a great deal about the Eurofederalist movement, and had an unexpected, yet extremely welcome, amount of fun. The Italian part of the seminar was more than double the size of the International Seminar and mostly separated during the day, however, at night we all got to know each other at the various bars on the island. I would highly recommend attending for anyone who has the opportunity, and I am very hopeful that YWF may be able to send more people next year. Consider donating to YWF if you think this sort of thing is important. Below I elaborate on two key takeaways from the seminar, on political and strategic. The first is on the nature of European federalism with respect to its historical sister movement, world federalism. The second is a brief recognition of the benefits of such youth seminars and a call to action for others to get involved in building something similar for young world federalists.


European and World Federalism

The relationship between European and world federalists is as old as both respective movements. Nearly since the beginning, a back-and-forth of political and strategic cooperation has existed between the two movements. A detailed early history of the relationship can be found here.


Highlighting the history of the relationship is important because, at the seminar, EU foreign policy (or lack thereof) was a recurring topic of conversation. The conversation typically drifted towards transnational and global issues like migration, climate, and corporate regulation. Often younger members of the seminar would grapple with trying to find a European solution to what are clearly global problems. Older members of the seminar and JEF leadership as a whole were quicker to recognize the inability of Europe to solve global problems on its own and often referred to the guidance of world federalists on these issues.

Calling on world federalists to fill in the void when it comes to EU foreign policy is flattering, however, an independent vision of a united world stemming from European federalist ideology would be preferred. While European federalists recognize that European values of democracy, equality, and freedom should be integral to EU foreign policy, what’s lacking is a clear and comprehensive vision for the future of the world. Luckily, the Young European Federalists (JEF), and their parent organization the Union of European Federalists (UEF), openly support the establishment of a world federation. However, it’s clear that more needs to be done to connect discussions around EU foreign policy with world federalism.


In a 1947 speech at the First Congress of the Union of European Federalists held in Montreaux, Switzerland in the days following the World Federalist Conference held in the same city, Dr. Henri Burgmans states that:


It would be absurd to try and organize Europe in a watertight compartment.The fact that we have taken as our motto “One Europe in One World” proves that we regard any action to achieve a peaceful Europe in a divided world as utopian. From the beginning, the cause of Europe has been indefensible except within a world framework. Indeed, of what use would it be to unify our part of the world if there were no international authority to control the use of atomic energy? Of what use would it be for us to achieve partial planning in the economic field if it was not enough to save the European people from starvation? Of what use would it be to create European armed forces if they were to be condemned to serve the interests of outsiders or imperialist oppressors? That is why we believe that all attempts to achieve peace are utopian unless they lead to World Federation. That is why we fight for the creation of functional world organizations which alone can prevent disaster and maintain the peace of the world.

This excellent account of the relationship between the two movements is still extremely relevant today. A major topic of conversation at Ventotene was the concept of an EU army, an idea that could very well symbolize imperial aggression by Europe onto other parts of the world. (In fact, many argue that Frontex’s actions in the Medditrarian are simply an imperial prototype.) And yet, here is a European federalist nearly 75 years ago warning against this exact manifestation of European unity.

While some JEF leaders did speak out against European nationalism, it is evident that younger members of the movement have been agitated by things like the so-called 2015 European Migration Crisis, and now Afghanistan, to get involved in a movement they believe best protects European heritage, culture, and way of life. This transposing of national values onto the supranational structure is of course the risk with any regional federalist project. World federalists must address this recreation of the nation-state head-on with appeals to human values of peace, justice, equality, and freedom for all people and Earth.

Internally, European federalists must pay special attention to the colonial aspects of EU integration, unity, and foreign policy. They should be clear about their objectives abroad. Regionalization projects are wonderful for bringing previously separate nations together into supranational unions. However, these unions must explicitly shed the inward-looking, competitive nature of nation-states. Regionalization must be cooperative, de-colonial, and anti-imperialist.


A world in which Europeans recognize their historical wrongdoings while providing resources to other nations and regions to achieve global goals and address global problems would push human rights and dignity forward globally.

Federalists of all stripes should be the first to recognize Europe and the rest of the Global North’s economic dominance is rooted in a competitive nation-state system. Federalists should connect this failure of the nation-state with the failure to adequately address global problems like the climate crisis, poverty, war, and pandemics. Simply maintaining the current unequal and unfair distribution of wealth organized by the global economy and promoted by economic integration is not enough. Social and political integration at the global level will make it far easier to address the shortcomings of stand-alone economic integration.


Solidarity with humanity must be at the heart of federalist politics - both European and world federalist. We must all see ourselves as world citizens and promote a vision of global unity. For European federalists, this means remembering the 1947 motto: “One Europe in One World”.


A Return to Montreux


The final takeaway from Ventotene is strategic. The seminar serves as an amazing opportunity for young people to meet, build connections, and learn about the history of their movement. Consistent references to Spinelli and his manifesto, even a group pilgrimage to his grave on the top of the hill, instill an immense feeling of grandiosity into the young participants. There may be many European federalist seminars, but there is only one Ventotene, and there you truly feel part of something larger.


World federalism could benefit from such an event. An annual return to the birthplace of the movement, Montreux, Switzerland would be the direct translation and serve to connect young world federalists with the historical beginnings of the movement. Alongside this, training in debate and argumentation would equip younger members of the movement with the skills they need to take world federalism with them for the rest of their lives. This is to say nothing of the benefits of building strong bonds between world federalists from different continents and how this can propel a global social movement to unite the world.


I am eager to continue elaborating this idea with friends and colleagues in the movement and encourage anyone interested in promoting a global youth seminar to contact me at contact@ywf.world.