For our weekly ‘Ideas on Europe’ editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, we have the pleasure to welcome again Simona Guerra, from the University of Surrey, in the UK. Bonjour, Simona!
Every once in a while, you tell us the untold story of ‘the early women of European integration’. And today, you are back with another fascinating profile, after the portrait of Käte Strobel you gave us last November.
Glad to be back! And guess what: I have recently won a research grant, named CAROLINE, which stands for ‘Creating A netwoRk On femaLe pIoNEers’ of European integration.
Thank you! For my second profile, I am choosing Nilde Iotti. Nilde is actually short for ’Leonilde’. She is a well-known political figure in Italian political history and she left an imprint on Europe, too.
She’s impressive! She lost her father as a young woman but won a scholarship and graduated in philosophy when she was just 23. Two years later, in 1945, she was appointed regional secretary of the Union of Italian Women, after having joined this labour movement since she was 18.
When women gained the right to vote, in 1946, she was elected municipal councilor, and was appointed member of the Italian Communist Party assembly. In the same year, still only 26 years old, she entered the Italian Parliament among 21 women deputies, who presented themselves holding each other’s hands. It is in 1969 that she joined the still very young European Parliament
Tell us about the initiatives she engaged in.
She was a member of the Working Group on European Parliament Direct Elections, but also of the Conference of Presidents, where she promoted the creation of an annual Conference of Parliamentary Commissions, dealing with European affairs, now recognized as the COSAC by the European Treaties.
Research tends to stress the role of women on promoting EU’s women policies. But the case of Nilde Iotti shows the active political agency of those ‘early women’ for European democracy. As Mechthild Roos has explained – I think you know her well – it is in the everyday policymaking and in the formal and informal procedures that we can better understand the work of individual deputies, emerging party groups, committees, and the European Parliament as a whole.
Where do you find all your historical data?
The European Parliament Research Archive offers online access to about 850,000 documents. I have consulted the ones relevant to my research, 43,516 documents, with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s, published in French, and the documents of the committee meetings allowed me to appreciate in detail the role of Nilde Iotti, who worked hard for the Parliament to gain influence, representation, and transparency.
In October 1969, she considered ‘absurd’ that the Parliament was not devoting any debate ‘on the proposed conference on security in Europe.’ To her, it was necessary to bridge ‘the gap which divides today’s Europe and prepare one of the essential acts of a policy of coexistence in Europe and worldwide.’ She wanted the Parliament to leave its ‘spectator’ dimension. Let me quote her again:
‘Do we want to accept forever that Europe is divided into two opposing opposed military blocks, and that, within these two, we see the persisting fatal consequences of the implacable logic of the bloc regime?’
And she added:
‘Dear Colleagues, if we want to be Europeans, we must take part in the events of history and European culture, we cannot continue to be absent; the place we occupy and the authority we are exercising are as strong as the measure of our participation in the major European political debates.’
That’s very pro-European for a woman from the radical left!
That’s right. Nilde Iotti pursued an idea of a Europe that was more international, and coherent with her idea of democracy. She was supporting integration beyond the economic solidarity and cooperation, towards civic and social integration.
In 1971, at a meeting of her party, she presented a work on ‘National sovereignty and European institutions’, explaining how to develop cultural, institutional, and political integration. In her 1979 inaugural speech as President of the Lower House in Italy, she stressed the ‘exceptional’ qualitative advancement of democracy at the European level with the first direct elections of the Parliament. And throughout her career, in Brussels and in Rome, she promoted a special Committee on European policies and democracy, until she left politics in 1992, after a political career of fifty years.
What a life! And I am sure you could not even cover everything. Thank you so much, Simona, for sharing your findings with us. I recall you are Senior Lecturer at the University of Surrey, in England.
A slightly extended version of the text was simultaneously published on the LSE blog: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2023/03/08/nilde-iotti-and-european-democracy/
Interview by Rune Mahieu.