“Prospects of the Community’s Enlargement”: a speech held by Lorenzo Natali, Vice-President of the European Commission, in 1978 in Turin

From Antonio Carbone, German Historical Institute Rome

This brief text is intended as a contribution to provide information about the archival research I am conducting as well as the kind of sources I am working with, offering a “straight from the archive” perspective. In my research, I primarily focus on the history of the influence of European integration on a specific group of actors, namely, Italian and French farmers’ organizations. My attention is especially directed towards the decade between the beginning of the transition to democracy in the Iberian Peninsula in the mid-1970s and the accession of Spain and Portugal to the European Economic Community in the mid-1980s. This period is particularly interesting because, faced with the possibility of the accession of a country like Spain, agricultural organizations in some countries viewed EEC enlargement with skepticism. Especially in France and Italy, countries with Mediterranean products that closely resembled those of Spain (wine, olive oil, fruit), major agricultural organizations found themselves in the position of having to choose between supporting accession, which would have been profitable for “continental” farmers, and opposing it to protect Mediterranean farmers from the competition of their Spanish counterparts. In the discussion that ensued, where significant economic interests were at stake, it is possible to trace the emergence of some ideas and visions of European integration, which partly oppose or transcend Brussels institutions. Specifically, the idea of a contrast between the northern continental regions and the southern Mediterranean regions plays a significant role.

The availability of direct sources produced by the farmers’ associations is rather limited, as they were produced by private actors that do not always have the possibility and the will to open their archives. For this reason, it is necessary to find actors that were directly involved in the debate but whose documents are available in public archives. An example of such an actor is Lorenzo Natali, who for a long period worked for the EEC institutions. Documents on his period in Brussels are kept at the Historical Archives of the European Union in Fiesole.

Lorenzo Natali (on the left side), 1978
© Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F054630-0031 / Reineke, Engelbert / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Lorenzo Natali (1922–1989) was a Christian Democrat and member of the “Coltivatori Diretti,” the Italian agricultural association with the largest number of members distributed in all regions of Italy. In January 1977, he joined the European Commission, presided over by Roy Jenkins, as Commissioner for Energy, Environment, and Enlargement, also serving as Vice President. After this initial experience, he remained commissioner in the commissions chaired by Gaston Thorn and Jacques Delors until his death in 1989.

The source that I briefly present here is the script of a speech given by Lorenzo Natali, in his capacity as Vice President of the Commission, at the Congress of the Italian National Council of Women in Turin in October 1978. The Italian National Council of Women is an association founded in 1903 as the Italian branch of the International Alliance of Women, aimed at advancing the political and social conditions of women. In his speech titled “Prospects of the Community’s Enlargement,” Natali analyzes the opportunities and problems related to the possible accession of Greece, Spain, and Portugal to the European Economic Community.

The script of Natali’s speech, 1978 (original source) © Antonio Carbone

Through Natali’s speech, it is possible to read his position both as a representative of the European Commission and as a representative of Italian interests within the Community, as well as an actor sensitive to the interests of both Italian and European agriculture. From this perspective, Natali provides information on a range of different positions and their articulation. At the beginning of his speech, Natali emphasizes that from the perspective of the Italian interest, enlargement is a great and “unique opportunity to shift the center of gravity of the Community towards the Mediterranean area.” Leaving aside the specific Italian perspective, he also highlights how enlargement is crucial for “Greece, Portugal, and Spain, who, with their application to join the Community shortly after regaining democracy following a long period of dictatorship, have primarily made a political choice.” He sees in “this choice a dual aspect: it demonstrates the concerns of the three young democracies to consolidate themselves and guard against the return of dictatorship […] and also that the ideal that gave birth to the Community has not lost its vigor or relevance.” From the Community’s perspective, he states that the “three countries have entrusted the Community with a political responsibility that it could reject only by renouncing the principles upon which it was built,” asserting that one of the pillars of the Community was the value of democracy.

Natali does not overlook the challenges that the accession of the three countries would bring for the Community and the entire framework of “that hot area [in terms of conflicts] which is the Mediterranean.” Emphasizing this thought, Natali states that “enlargement will strengthen the role that the Community is called to play in the world: in the Mediterranean, as it will practically occupy the entire northern shore, but also in Africa and Latin America, considering the historical ties of two of the candidate countries with important countries in these geographical areas.” One of the major challenges he sees is especially related to the repercussions on non-Community Mediterranean countries. He considers problematic, first and foremost, the repercussions on the relationship with Turkey and warns that “the Community must ensure that enlargement does not pose an obstacle to the path outlined by the association agreement with this country.” However, he also underscores the “cooperation and association agreements that include the three Maghreb countries, the four Mashrak countries, Israel, Malta, and Cyprus” and how the Community’s enlargement would cause “an erosion in the quota of the Community market in these countries.” The trade agreements Natali refers to primarily focus on imports of Mediterranean agricultural products into the Community market, which allowed these countries to accumulate reserves in European currencies, which then enabled them to purchase machinery and industrial goods from Community countries.

Despite his clear stance in favor of enlargement, Natali argues that the accession of the three Mediterranean countries would increase the gap between rich and poor regions in the Community significantly. He states that if in the 1978 situation the gap “between the poorest region (Calabria, Western Ireland) and the richest (Hamburg) is 1 to 6,” after enlargement, the “ratio would be 1 to 15.” Moreover, he believes that “the increase in trade […] will further favor the rich regions over the poor ones.” In his view, in the face of problems such as “unemployment and worsening regional imbalances,” the Community cannot simply remain the guarantor of the “free play of market forces.” If, as he reconstructs, “the Community was born and developed under the umbrella of growth and liberalism,” it is necessary, in the face of growing regional disparities, to “introduce tools and policies of intervention and redistribution of resources.”

Natali also imagines the impact that enlargement could have on certain economic sectors, especially on agriculture. Speaking about agriculture, he develops his idea, which he will maintain in the following years, of wanting to avoid what he sees as a possible “war among the poor” among Mediterranean farmers. Rather confidently, since in 1978 the vehement discussions on the Community budget had not yet reached their peak, Natali reiterates the need “to revise the Common Agricultural Policy, which strongly favors continental agricultural productions, in the direction of better protection of Mediterranean productions.” Considering the problem that “for certain already surplus sectors such as wine, olive oil, and fruit and vegetable, there is a danger of further increasing the surpluses.” In his opinion, it was necessary to change the status quo of the Common Agricultural Policy to rebalance it in favor of Mediterranean products while avoiding surpluses. Natali knew very well that any proposal to reform the Common Agricultural Policy was destined to break against a wall of significant economic and political interests pushing for the maintenance of the existing situation. He believed it was necessary to reject “the logic of corporatism, whereby certain social categories insist on maintaining the status quo” and, at the same time, avoid the solution of opposing “with great clamor the entry of three new European countries into the community club.”

After warning Italian farmers not to retreat into the position of either rejecting Spain’s accession or defending the status quo in the Common Agricultural Policy, Natali states that the Community must take on the task “to advance negotiations with each candidate country as quickly as possible.” He sees that “delays or hesitations on the part of the Community can cause in these countries disenchantment or doubts about their European vocation. This is a very serious risk because it jeopardizes the stability of their democratic institutions and stability in the whole Mediterranean area.”

As a source, Lorenzo Natali’s speech provides us with not only detailed information about his personal position on the Community’s enlargement but also, more generally, on the positions of other participants in the discussion. Certainly, in interpreting and using the source, it is necessary to consider that the speech was intended for a public occasion and for a specific audience, in this case, the Italian National Council of Women. However, by crossing this kind of “public” source, even if unpublished, with media and documents produced by Brussels institutions and national governments, it is possible to get a more complete picture of this debate. Through the analysis of this speech, it is furthermore possible to highlight not only the economic interests related to the support or rejection of certain European policies or decisions but also alternative visions of Europe, such as that of a Mediterranean Europe that must avoid at all costs a “war among the poor” among its farmers.

Cite this blog post
Editorial Board (2023, October 25). “Prospects of the Community’s Enlargement”: a speech held by Lorenzo Natali, Vice-President of the European Commission, in 1978 in Turin. (De)Constructing Europe. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/olp5

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