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The “big four’s” Europe: variable geographies to boost the economy, health and security

Ahead of the European Council and of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaties, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain gathered around the same table. They shared the same claims: enhanced EU cooperation to face globalization and meet citizens’ needs, mindful of the risks posed by populism and of the grim crises hovering over the Old Continent

Versailles, 6 marzo 2017: vertice a quattro con Hollande, Merkel e Rajoy sul futuro dell'Unione

The method and the substance. A “multispeed” Europe is a concrete possibility. But the focal point, the most challenging goal, is the consolidation and the relaunching of the “common home.” From the mini-summit held on March 6 in Versailles, which brought together the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, comes a renewed thrust to greater cooperation in facing the challenging, insidious global era. Hollande, Merkel, Gentiloni and Rajoy are fully aware that European integration was born and has developed historically with the stop and go method, with alternating successes, failures and new steps forward, and that our era – that can’t be defined a favourable moment in time – is threatened by various degrees of nationalism and crisis (involving economy, security, migration…). But the European leaders are equally aware, as outlined by the German Chancellor, that: “the European Union must be a solid protagonist before the other protagonists of globalization”. Being together is a necessity, while the ways leading to the achievement of “unity in diversity” are open to debate. Thus the four leaders in unison endorsed the EU’s “variable geographies” approach, already characterising the euro currency, Schengen and other forms of enhanced cooperation enshrined in agreements and treaties. So the point is clear: no progress is possible without Europe; but which Europe is it?

We move forward. The “host”, François Hollande, summoned his “colleagues” to a summit attended by the four largest EU members Countries to date – following the exit of the United Kingdom (which, here in Versailles, no one regrets). The European Council is tabled in Brussels next March 9-10; the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Treaties establishing the Community will take place in Rome on March 25. For the occasion the quartet intends to send a clear message: we are moving forward,

we want to “deepen” economic, political and social integration

and we intend to be open to future EU adhesions (the Balkans), strengthening cooperation with the rest of the world (notably Africa and the Middle East, two problematic neighbours). Hollande, after the meeting, amidst camera flashes and smiles, spoke of a “multispeed Europe”, with Germany, Italy, France and Spain pulling the strings, accepting the “responsibility to pave the way for the EU.” “We are experiencing a situation marked by surging uncertainties and worries – he said -. Some principles like the rule of Law and peace are being called into question.” In Rome, we are called not only to “celebrate the past.” In fact “preserving the status quo is not the solution, especially after Brexit.” The EU has specific responsibilities towards the peoples of the Old Continent: namely, ensuring economic development, security and defence, controlling migration flows, extending our gaze beyond the borders, towards Africa, Syria, but also – with concern – to the US, Russia, Ukraine.

Joint responsibility. Angela Merkel addressed the question of “differentiated cooperation”: “we must have the courage to accept the fact that some Countries can move forward at a faster pace” in “continuing the construction of Europe”, with a view to creating a “Union of prosperity and job opportunities.” In concrete terms, the Chancellor tackled citizens’ concerns and added: “There is need for joint responsibility, such responsibility will be enshrined in the Rome Declaration.”

However, the new EU will not be a club of the big ones, and it will “remain open”

to those member States that intend to close ranks, yielding sovereignty to Brussels to obtain the best shared results, according to the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. The final press conference and the group photo failed to conceal worried faces regarding the pressures of populisms and the fact that EU citizens feel distant from the ancient “dream” of the Founding Fathers, while the elections scheduled in different Countries are testing grounds that might deliver further difficulties: polls open in the Netherlands on March 15, in April and May will take place the first round and the runoff for the French presidential election, while Germany’s national elections will be held the coming fall, against the backdrop of uncertainties afflicting the governments of Italy and Spain.

Starting again from the people. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni highlighted the urgent need for a “more integrated EU, open to different levels of integration,” because “it is right and normal that Countries may have different ambitions and that these ambitions may have different answers.” Then, a seemingly obvious observation, but not a trivial one given the present times:

“The Union will start again from the European people.”

“We need a social Europe, focused on investment and growth. A Europe in which those who fall behind don’t consider the EU as the cause of their problems, but rather as an answer to their difficulties.” In short, a Europe that is a friend and not a stepmother. Mariano Rajoy reaffirmed that “the European Union is a success story. There have been 60 years of peace and democracy – argued the Spanish Prime Minister – for this reason it is necessary to defend it. ” The EU27 is called to “extend her glance towards a more distant horizon, and Spain is willing to go further, towards greater integration.” The final impression is that of a Europe that is still in the hands of the chancelleries, of the decisions made by the governments and not by the peoples. But if this is the shortest way …




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