On 25 March 2017, European leaders gathered in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties. The process of the European integration that started in the aftermath of the two devastating wars has been a product of the imagination of pragmatic visionaries. In 1957, the founding members embarked on a journey without a defined destination, hoping to bring all Europeans to work together towards stability, prosperity and peace. 60 years into the project, the old continent has overcome deep historical divisions and cooperation among the European countries has become a day-to-day reality. Today, this cooperation is often taken for granted, as it has truly become the DNA of the new generation of Europeans.
The European project has always managed to navigate challenges and bounce back but what the EU is facing today is more fundamental. For years now, the EU has been mired by multiple crises, which have weakened the major achievements of the integration. Although some progress has been made, the truth is that most crises have not been addressed in a sustainable way. The bloc is still suffering from collateral and cumulative damage caused by increased divergence, fragmentation, widespread frustration, and social and political cleavages. Crises have also normalized things that would have not been called normal before. As such, this time there are serious concerns and doubts whether the EU will emerge stronger.
In the climate of Brexit and having to deal with Donald Trump over the Atlantic and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, the EU is failing to reenergize the joint venture. EU governments do not share a common vision to tackle the current challenges and the distrust is getting more obvious. Therefore, the Rome Declaration celebrating the Union’s 60th birthday is a rather lukewarm document full of compromises, reflecting the lowest common denominator among the 28 – or already rather 27 – EU member states. The most problematic issues, such as refugees, migration, and the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), were pushed aside for a temporary peace of mind. Instead, European leaders pledged to make the EU “stronger and more resilient” to work towards a “safe and secure Europe”, “a prosperous and sustainably Europe”, “a social Europe”, and “a stronger Europe on the global scene”.
The future of the EU will ultimately be defined by the two of its founding members – France and Germany. Just like it all started, Paris and Berlin will either create a new momentum or not, which will depend on the new French president and the newly elected German federal government. A compromise between these key EU members will be necessary to obtain support for other members in an effort to tackle the many crises facing the EU. Even if the French and German elections end up in the EU’s favor, there is always a risk of complacency and inaction. Let’s hope that EU leaders will not defensively muddle through the problems as they have done in the past but instead embark on taking up courageous and forward-looking initiatives that will be acted upon.
‘The Rome Declaration – An Imperfect Display of Unity’ – Commentary by Janis A. Emmanouilidis – European Policy Centre (EPC).
(The Commentary can be downloaded here)