On March 25 1957 all the bells of Rome tolled in celebration of the ratification of the Treaties of Rome. The historical moment in time marking a veritable breakthrough in the history of Italy and of Europe as a whole was widely acknowledged. Only 12 years had passed since the end of World War II, and European peoples were living with the trauma of the mass extermination of the past two conflicts, of the destruction. In many cities the wreckage caused by the bombings was still visible. Many European peoples lived in situations of extreme poverty. Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. The Treaties marked the end of the war, despite the ongoing “cold war.” But we need to take a step back.
On May 9 1950 French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, together with German statesman Konrad Adenauer and Italian statesman Alcide De Gasperi, had ushered in new horizons, a road leading to peace and reconciliation between once belligerent Countries, notably between Germany and France.
He proposed European peoples to pool coal and steel resources, underlying modern wars. The Schuman Declaration was concretized with the Paris Treaty of April 18 1951, placing the cornerstone of the first European Community, the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community). The Declaration entered into force a year later, on July 23 1952. It was the first step giving concrete expression to the handing over of sovereignty by its six member States. The plan for a European Defence Community, linked to the plan of a European Political Community, was rejected in 1954. But the pro-European project was still thriving. Italian diplomacy was particularly active in revitalizing the unification project in the years 1955 and 1956. Italy thus organized two major Conferences in Messina (June 1955) and in Venice (May 1956), that paved the way – despite some stumbling blocks – to the Treaty of Rome, or more precisely, the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) and especially the European Economic Community (EEC). Signed in the heart of Rome, in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill, the Treaties constituted a veritable expansion of the union of the Continent, at least of the free and democratic part of Europe, involving six Countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands. Unfortunately, plans envisaging a European army and a political union had been abandoned. People weren’t ready for it yet.
European integration envisaged an economic and social prospect.
It was an encouragement to the development of trade in accordance with the objectives of the Customs Union and the establishment of a common market. It was meant to be much more than an area of free trade as its purpose was an ever closer Union, marked by increasingly stronger ties between national economies to create a veritable “Community of destiny.” The economic union was meant to further the free circulation of goods and people (principle of the freedom of movement), critical to the development of a European conscience. The intention was also to promote dedicated community policies, notably in the areas of agriculture, fisheries or transport. Economic unity was thus the banner for progress not only in the economy but also at social level, with unprecedented solidarity between regions. Rome’s bells hailed a great event. It was a joyful event that encompassed a future of progress and peace.
Despite the populist, anti-European propaganda we have grown familiar with, no honest political observer could deny the incredible success of the European politics born of the Treaties of Rome:
years of peace, of social progress, of solidarity, of mutual understanding between peoples (just think of the renowned Erasmus program for students). Present difficulties don’t stem from the Treaties but from the impossibility to create a political and military Europe, acknowledged in 1954. The failure of 1954 led to an economic union, namely to a rather technocratic union. Moreover, conceiving a common agricultural policy and a single currency is the task of technical experts, involving complex institutions that are often hard to unravel. This may in part explain a certain degree of democratic deficit, the feeling that peoples seem alien to the Europeanist movement. It’s not the fault of the EEC. Rather, the causes are to found in the inability to conceive the union in political terms, as confirmed by the failure of a plan for a European Constitution in 2005. For that reason, sixty years later the matter at stake is political insight, the quest for transparent, efficient common institutions, with political decisions comprehensible by everyone, capable of building authentic unity, of moving from an economic and monetary union to a political union, thereby creating a European conscience. For example, when will we all have a European nationality? When will we have a European football team and a sole representative at the Olympic Games? In symbolic terms, it would be more important than the single currency.