Europe and Central Asia
22 Mar 2017

The Way Forward

Via Appia, Rome (c) Shutterstock
By Danilo Selvaggi

This week, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – the founding moment of the European Union – the director of LIPU (BirdLife Italy), Danilo Selvaggi, contemplates what the European project means for nature, birds and people.


The way foward is not easy or safe, but must travelled and will be

Altiero Spinelli & Ernesto Rossi, June 1941


In the spring skies over Rome, the first rondini (swallows) and the first gruccioni (bee-eaters) have arrived. And that’s not all: there is a wolf that wanders outside the city. Not the mythical beast of the ancient founding of Rome, but a real wolf in flesh and blood – a very real yet wondrous symbol of species survival. If the wolf and the migratory birds are back, it is because of those last remaining areas of Roman countryside that have escaped urbanization, and because the European Union’s Natura 2000 sites have helped safeguard natural habitats and landscapes. Here, the monumental artistic beauty of the Eternal City and the delicate beauty of its nature come together. Natura 2000 is above all this: a tool to conserve biodiversity without forgetting the realm of men. It is a way to bring nature and society together by recognising that these two forces – people and nature – must exist as one. For division is the error of all errors – the root of all evil.


Ancient Roman bronze of the mythical she-wolf suckling Romulus & Remus, the founders of Rome, (c) Shutterstock


In a sense, it is the same for the nations of Europe – we must live and work together.

On March 25, Europe celebrates the 60th anniversary of the ‘Treaty establishing the European Economic Community’. Signed by the ‘founding six’ members (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) in 1957, the treaty gave birth to the European Union of today. The dream of the early dreamers of Europe was to transcend their ancient quarrels and build a larger community, emphasising the core values of humanity – knowledge, dialogue, peace. Obstacles could be overcome, closed borders could be opened...

Those who dreamed of Europe imagined a long but beautiful journey that Europeans would travel together. It is no coincidence that in June 1941, on a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea not far from Rome, Altiero Spinelli and his friends wrote the ‘Ventotene Manifesto’ (or ‘For a Free and United Europe. A Draft Manifesto)[1]. It champions an ideal for humanity that could also be said of migratory birds: “La via da percorrere non è facile né sicura, ma deve essere percorsa e lo sarà” – “The way forward is not easy or safe, but must be travelled and will be.”

Today, this dream of a united Europe is facing its most daunting days. It feels like we’re trapped in a bottleneck, looking down the barrel of a poacher’s gun. We live in one of those historic times in which we need – more than ever – all the collective intelligence of Europe’s leaders, citizens and civil society groups. Europe has made many mistakes, not least of which being its slow acknowledgement that the European project cannot simply feed off coal and steel or bank balances, but rather, it must build on our shared cultural, philosophical and natural heritage. Yet, despite its limitations, Europe has undeniably been a force for good, a guarantor of peace and defender against environmental destruction.

European bee-eaters are back in Rome! Photo (c) Roberto Parmiggiani


Even ‘unfinished’, Europe has manged to do so much. Just imagine what a truly united Europe could achieve – a fully sustainable food and farming policy that secures both our biosecurity and food security future. Imagine what good this could do for the economy and peoples of Europe, and for the whole world.

We cannot thrive without Europe. It offers us our best hope – for us and for the wolves, eagles, swallows, skies and fields. The dreamers of Ventotene were right: the way forward is not easy or safe, but it is the right path to take. It would be good if, on March 25, Europe’s leaders took in a long deep breath of the Roman spring air and lent their thoughts to them.


Danilo Selvaggi is Director of LIPU (BirdLife Italy)

[1] Per un'Europa libera e unita. Progetto d'un manifesto – June 1941

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.