By Nicola Vallinoto
A question that I have asked myself in view of this meeting on the Ventotene Manifesto is the following: if Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi had lived at the time of the pandemic, what would they have written that would be more than or different from the 1941 text?
After all, to a certain extent, we are living through a similar period of severe limitations to our freedoms, and although there are no bombings we have an invisible enemy that is claiming millions of victims. In recent months we have experienced a sort of imprisonment with a curfew and a ban on gatherings and public demonstrations. Certainly nothing comparable to a war, but this situation has allowed us to reflect on the really important things in life.
Spinelli and Rossi are no longer with us and so we must ask ourselves, who are the heirs of the federalist ideas which were conceived of in Ventotene. Fortunately, not only those in the European Federalist Movement (MFE). As the sociologist Alessandro Cavalli has said, there are more federalists outside than inside the MFE. This is a sign of the times: he means that federalism, which until a few years ago was considered a taboo subject, has now become part of public discourse.
The answer that I give and that I will develop in this talk is that if we were to rewrite the “Ventotene Manifesto 2.0” today, this text would maintain the thesis of the 1941 Manifesto, namely the need to overcome the absolute sovereignty of nation States and to create a European federation, but it would have an additional chapter dedicated to the governance of globalisation.
Globalisation has entered our lives forcefully. Over 7 billion people who inhabit planet Earth are affected by a global process that generates an infinite number of economic and social relations. Thanks to the evolution of communications and transport and the means of production, we have now been living for several decades in a sort of global village. The representation of the world in closed spaces no longer makes sense. No country and no group can isolate itself from others. We are all interconnected for better or for worse. Globalisation is an irreversible process from which there is no going back and if we do not want to suffer from it, we have to govern it.
Globalisation means different players moving beyond the borders of nation States. We can think of multinational corporations, international organisations, mafias, terrorism and global civil society movements. Each of these players moves in the global arena following their own specific purposes and each with their own rules in the absence of a shared constitutional framework.
Globalisation is a process that can be seen in different ways and each has negative and positive aspects:
– the globalisation of the economy and finance moves goods and money all over the world: it is positive to have access to a market without barriers, while it is negative that there is no global taxation on financial transactions and that multinationals manage not to pay taxes and participate in the world welfare state;
– the globalisation of information: thanks to the internet, information travels in real time from one end of the planet to another: this helps the sharing of knowledge. Being able to get Covid19 vaccines in less than a year is a prime example. On the other hand, the few global operators of digital platforms extract the data we leave on the network, thus assuming extraordinary power. Digital data becomes a source of wealth and control;
– the globalisation of work and production: companies move production and services to countries where labour costs are lower. This allows for lower prices on the final product to the detriment of workers’ rights, which are often not guaranteed where relocation takes place;
– the globalisation of rights. From the Rio 92 Earth Summit to the Fridays For Future demonstrations in 2019, thousands of global demonstrations crossed the planet to demand peace, disarmament, social and environmental justice. Millions of people fight daily to claim global rights for all citizens of the world regardless of nationality, religion or skin colour. A global citizenship is being created even though rights are not yet guaranteed globally.
As we have seen, almost everything has been globalised except democracy, which has remained at national level. There are examples of international democracy such as the European Union, which is the most advanced example in the world, but on a global level it is the economy that leads politics. Those who make global decisions about things that concern us do not respond to a democratic power.
Global civil society movements
In 2021 it has been 20 years since the G8 in Genoa and next year it will be 30 years since the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. In this regard, I would like to briefly mention one of the players who move beyond the national borders that I spoke about earlier: global civil society movements – to see how they can play a role in democratising global spaces and jointly managing the common goods of humankind.
In 1992, the Earth Summit organised and promoted by the United Nations was held on the occasion of the second UN International Conference on Environment and Development. On that occasion, a Global forum (a counter-conference) was held with representatives of over 600 environmental associations from all over the world, who drafted an Earth Charter with over 40 treaties on planetary environmentalism that were an alternative to the less advanced proposals of governments.
From then on, the mobilisation of global civil society at world summits and meetings gradually increased and grew in importance.
In 1998, a vast coalition of human rights organisations and networks, coordinated by the World Federalist Movement, succeeded in putting pressure on the most progressive governments and obtaining the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which is considered a step forward in the construction of international democracy.
In December 1999, demonstrations in Seattle succeeded in bringing down the WTO Millennial Round.
Global movements demand democracy, and contest the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few private subjects. In Seattle, one of the banners displayed by the demonstrators said “No globalisation without representation”.
They criticize the globalisation process that creates a global market without protection for the weakest and without globalising decisions. A void is created between those who decide and those who suffer the effects of these decisions.
The culmination of these counter-summits was in Genoa in 2001, where an alternative Global Forum was held in the week of the G8, and two huge demonstrations took place. The first on Thursday on the question of migrants with 50,000 people, and then one on Sunday with 300,000 participants. The police decided to suppress all forms of dissent by indiscriminately targeting the participants, and the attack on the Diaz school and the way they treated demonstrators at the Bolzaneto Barracks were seen as a veritable slaughterhouse. Democracy in Genoa in the days of the G8 was suspended.
Genoa was the last major summit organized in the historic centre of a large, easily accessible city. The next summit was held in the mountains of Canada in a place that was difficult to reach.
In the same years, the alter-globalist movement (called “No global”) began to flourish, and an alternative narrative to that proposed by the global financial and political elites, who meet annually in Davos, a town in the middle of the Swiss Alps, began to emerge. In 2001, the World Social Forum was organised in Porto Alegre, in the same week as the World Economic Forum in Davos. Porto Alegre was chosen thanks to its experience with participatory budgets, which has been exported all over the world.
In Porto Alegre tens of thousands of participants gathered and organised hundreds of events (workshops, assemblies, debates), making proposals on all the global issues (environment, peace, rights, social justice, etc.). The World Social Forum became a real university where local experiences of movements from all parts of the planet are connected.
And in fact, the narrative of Porto Alegre managed to break through into the world news. At the same time as the Davos forum, newspapers devoted ample space to the proposals of the World Social Forum, demonstrating that Mrs Thatcher’s famous slogan “There is no alternative” (TINA) is absolutely not true, and that instead “There are many alternatives” (TAMA).
After Porto Alegre, the Forum was moved to other continents to expand and encourage the participation of movements from other regions of the world: in 2004 it was held in Mumbai and in 2007 in Nairobi, returning to Brazil in 2009, this time to Belem in the Amazon.
To summarise, in an attempt to describe the path taken by the global mobilisation, we can identify at least three phases: a first phase of protest with demonstrations at the summits (Seattle, Genoa), a second phase of proposals (with the World Social Forums) and a third phase of planning, which is the most difficult to carry out, in which the movements must find precise objectives towards which they can channel their forces and direct the available energies.
Only in this way is it possible to obtain concrete results, as happened in 1998 with the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
Going back to the question of globalisation, the planet is experiencing global crises that are putting the survival of life on Earth at risk. We are walking, to use the term used by Federico Fubini in his latest book, on the crest of a volcano, and we don’t know what the next shock that will hit us will be.
In recent years we have been hit by many global crises:
– the financial crisis of 2007, which started in the United States with subprime mortgages;
– the migration crisis with waves affecting Europe, but which is actually a global phenomenon involving hundreds of millions of people, which is destined to increase due to climate change;
– the climate crisis: glaciers are melting and forests are burning at ever higher rates;
– the pandemic crisis: the Sars Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the limits of the big pharma free market; maintaining the patent on vaccines prevents widespread sharing of vaccines, especially in less developed areas of the world;
– the social crisis: social and economic inequalities are increasing. According to the 2020 Oxfam report, the richest 1% of the world’s population owns more than double the wealth owned by 6.9 billion people. In other words, the poorest half of humanity does not even reach 1% of total wealth. The Oxfam 2021 report is significantly titled “The inequality virus”. As we know, the pandemic has further deepened inequalities. The stocks of large pharmaceutical multinationals and technology platforms have dramatically increased their profits. The Oxfam report says Jeff Bezos could have paid a $ 105,000 bonus to all of his 876,000 employees in September 2020, and still have the same wealth as before the pandemic began.
– the democratic crisis: as we have seen, we are experiencing many crises but the main, all-encompassing one is the democratic crisis. Who decides on matters that affect us directly? Where important decisions are made – at a global level – there are no democratic rules, while where democracy applies – at national level – decisions no longer count for anything.
One of the main consequences of the globalisation process is the dismantling of national democracy, as States have progressively lost control over the major problems that concern them without having built a parallel international democracy.
Care for the planet and the governance of globalisation
In order to adequately address these global crises, we need to take care of our planet. As citizens of the world, we must make our voices heard, as millions of Fridays for Future youngsters did in 2019 with climate strikes. Democracy must be implemented at all levels from the local to the global. If we do not want to suffer from globalisation, we must govern it.
So we come to the Ventotene Manifesto 2.0; we can no longer limit ourselves to calling for a European federation. Together with this demand we must work, immediately and at the same time, for a world federation. This does not mean having a world government straight away, but operating in steps, starting by equipping the United Nations with certain functions necessary to manage the common goods of mankind and the resources necessary for these functions.
For example, the World Health Organisation could manage pandemics in a different way, financing the development and dissemination of vaccines among the populations in developing areas, by collecting a small part of a global tax on the profits of large multinationals.
For example, a global organisation for the environment could manage the consequences of climate change or work to prevent them by collecting a small part of a global tax on CO2 emissions.
And then we need an Earth Constitution, that would set the reference framework for the rights and duties of all the citizens of the world with a distribution of the global functions necessary to manage the common planetary goods.
And in the future, we need to transform the General Assembly of the United Nations into a Parliamentary Assembly, so it can become a real Parliament.
And the Security Council must become the Council of the great regions of the world, in order to represent the populations of the whole planet.
All these objectives will be possible only with a great mobilisation of global civil society which, in alliance with the most innovative governments, will overcome the obstacles set by the governments most reluctant to change.
And as the authors of the Ventotene Manifesto said: “the road ahead is neither easy nor safe, but it must be travelled, and it will be”.
* Speech given on the occasion of the conference “War, peace, environment and supranational federalism” organized by the Federalist meeting point on June 6, 2021. Translated by Anne Parry. Article published by The Federalist Debate, Year XXXIV – November 2021.