From 6 to 27 in 60 years. With a few ailments, a painful divorce underway, and the struggle to come together with determination to put into action what is direly needed today. Yet still united, having achieved the most advanced plan of progress and peace in the history of the past Century. Despite the many people wishing bad luck, here we are all together, a bit more crammed, in the same hall where the Treaties establishing the European Community were signed 60 years ago. Months of divisions followed by the unprecedented common understanding and enthusiasm of today. Some wrote that the leaders were enchanted by Rome, where they gathered on March 25 to celebrate 6 decades of Community integration. It was widely acknowledged that it was now time to turn a new page; proceeding together along the path of integration; coherently stepping up all urgent issues through common action, with different paces if necessary, but still continuing along the same direction. Some described it as a watered-down compromise, others were disappointed for the lack of courageous decisions, others still argued that it was the usual show of good intentions, bound to collapse at the first obstacle. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that
The Rome Declaration, signed on March 25, is a document that will be passed down in history, a noble compromise; a veritable rebirth.
Everyone had to renounce something to give priority to joint interests and to an agenda of future commitments. That was the atmosphere prevailing in Rome’s Capitol Hill. That Declaration contains not only the pride of what the EU has done for her peoples throughout the past 60 years, in terms of peace, progress and cohesion, and recalling, as underlined by the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, that since 1960 European citizens’ pro capita GDP increased 33% more than that of the United States! The pledged commitments lay down in the “Programme of Rome”, consist of four main points: a safe Europe, a prosperous and sustainable Europe, a socially responsible Europe, a stronger Europe on the global scene. The above-mentioned actions encompass a well-balanced, far-reaching plan of action. There is no rhetoric. Rather, there is a sober form of realism in terms of the many things that can be achieved today, the many initiatives set in motion, which need to be accelerated and become more binding, operative, efficient, closer to European citizens. It’s an agenda for Europe that addresses the challenge raised by the public at large, namely to protect and ensure new opportunities for all, within societies that must continue being open, rooted in common values and regulations, and in democratic consolidation.
Now it’s necessary to rapidly move on to the stage of implementation, adopting all the tools enshrined in the Treaties, leaving nobody out, and avoiding to fall once again into the trap of unfulfilled promises.
In fact, this is the true point of reaction against the growth of populisms aimed at causing divisions, at making us plunge back into the most controversial pages of 20th century nationalisms. Divisive conflicts on the international arena, marked by the return of imperial forms of sovereignty, which we thought belonged to a bygone past, can be countered today with the force of “political regionalism”, of which the EU is most complex expression. A movement that over the past 20 years increased tenfold the number of “regional” organizations and agreements worldwide, ensuring stability, opportunities for development and negotiated regulations. In Rome there was a clear realization that nobody is tired of our EU, and that all European leaders intend to step up her performance. As EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, there are signatures that last and that have an impact. The very fact that European leaders signed, one by one, the Rome Declaration placed on a showcase displaying the Treaties of Rome with the original signatures of 1957, has in itself a symbolic force that can become binding. Among the most evocative speeches figures the address of the President of the European Council Donald Tusk –born in Gdansk 60 years ago, who spent half of his life on the other side of the Iron Curtain – who said in clear terms that for a lifetime for over 100 million Europeans the two-speed Europe made it practically impossible to conceive words like freedom, progress, democracy, rule of the Law.
That’s why the word solidarity that unites whilst respecting our diversities is not a rhetorical statement. In fact it’s the indivisible trait of our very identity.
The Rome Declaration corresponds to the clear invitation made by Pope Francis to EU leaders a day before, in the private audience of March 24, when he asked to discern the paths of hope and identify concrete ways for action, to continue rekindling a long and fruitful journey. It will be necessary to waste no more time in the remaining two years of the European Parliament’s legislature. Only in this way will the doors remain open also to new, future developments, that may even give shape to the proposal of a new Constitutional Assembly advocated at the end of the same day. There are no more excuses, neither for those holding positions of responsibility in European institutions, nor for the national governments and parliaments, and neither for the many dynamic forces of European civil society whose diverse sensitivities have coloured and filled the streets of Rome and of all of Europe. Making us understand that Europe is a work in progress, but also that European peoples are increasingly present. Long live the European Union.
(*)President of the Various Interests’ Group at the European Economic and Social Committee