Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Exiled Monarchs: Italy Violates the Human Rights of Its Royals

Wall Street Journal - 19th October 2000

The Queen of England will leave Italy this week without meeting her Italian cousins. It was not a scheduling problem, it was constitutional. Male descendants of the House of Savoy, Italy's last ruling family, have been barred from Italian soil since 1946 because the last king signed some fascist laws. This is absurd: Mussolini's descendants are not only free to roam -- one is even in parliament. But it's more than that, it's also a violation of human-rights accords Rome has signed.

Austria and Greece impose lesser restrictions to their former royals. In Austria, the constitution still theoretically bars the Hapsburgs the right of entry, although Otto von Hapsburg was allowed to return after signing a document in which he renounced his identity, his claim to the throne or right to seek election as president, and fundamental property rights.

The Greek Socialist government stripped King Constantine of his property, including his family burial plots, and effectively barred him from entering Greece. His family is fighting back, recently winning the first round of a legal case seeking to overturn this law before the European Court of Human Rights. Recently Bulgaria, Romania, and Yugoslavia changed their laws regarding their former royals in anticipation of joining the European Union. In Russia, it's too late for the Romanovs.

But it's not too late in Italy. Twenty years after the Helsinki Final Act, 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and one year after the Amsterdam Treaty came into force, citing the European Convention of Human Rights, article 13 of the Italian Constitution (absurdly labeled transitional) is still in force. This medieval law also violates a whole range of European treaties -- in particular the Right of Freedom of Movement and Establishment. It also constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. And it's sexually discriminatory to boot! It applies only to male Savoys.

The reason given for continuing the ban was that the wartime monarch, King Victor Emmanuel III, was deemed guilty of signing unacceptable fascist laws. In fact Victor Emanuel ordered the arrest of Mussolini in 1943, while his daughter was arrested and put in Buchenwald concentration camp, where she died in an Allied air raid.

The debate in Europe will doubtlessly continue over personal responsibility at a difficult time in history, when compromises were made by many. If Italy is truly to come to terms with its past, however, it should not be able to treat innocent men as scapegoats for the mistakes of an earlier generation.

Prince Victor Emanuel, the grandson of Victor Emmanuel III, was expelled from his homeland as a nine-year-old child and has never been allowed to return, while his 28-year-old son Prince Emanuel Filiberto has never been permitted to set foot in his own country. He became well-known in Italy working as a television football commentator in Switzerland, but is this the way a major European country wants to conduct itself?

The issue, however, goes far beyond the rights of individual families; it goes to the heart of the European Union's respect for its own laws and treaties. I have repeatedly raised this issue in the European Parliament on the grounds that there is a clear breach of both the European Convention of Human Rights and of the treaty establishing the European Union. Recently, the Parliament's Watson Report demanded rights of family reunion for all EU citizens and also for third-country, non-EU citizens. The accompanying Boumedienne-Thierry Report dealing with freedom of movement and residence went even further, demanding such rights for convicted criminals.

These reports were passed with large majorities in the parliament. But even though more than 230 parliamentarians supported my amendment expressing disappointment that the European Commission had failed to refer to the violations of the Savoys' civil rights, it was nevertheless defeated by a combined Socialist and Liberal vote. I was particularly surprised that the British Liberal Democrats and Labour MEPs voted against it, despite their claim to uphold the European Convention of Human Rights and the European treaties, and to apply them universally and without discrimination.

A bill has sat in the Italian Senate calling for a change in this arcane law, but it has been held up by a small minority of intransigent far-left senators. No one seriously considers the family to be even a remote threat to public security, the only legal justification permitted for denying their existing treaty rights. It is, therefore, all the more extraordinary that a European family that for a 1,000 years has been deeply involved in Europe's history is being denied its human rights.

And what do ordinary Italians think of all this? Some 85% support the Savoys' right of return. In the meantime, Prince Victor Emmanuel awaits a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to live and die in his own country. That is why I have written to British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini on the occasion of the Queen's state visit to press home the right of an aging and kindly man and his son to return to their native land. But will they listen?