Treaties of Rome, 60 years of Europe
During a summit to be held in Rome on March 25, the Heads of State and Government will discuss the future of the European Union
25 March 1957 is considered the birth of what is now the European Union (EU), since the Treaties of Rome were signed. A treaty established a European Economic Community (EEC), while the other set up a European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands decided to come together in a community with the aim of creating a common market and promote the transformation of the economic conditions of trade and production, but they also foresaw an European political community. These communities were following the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952, a sign of determination but also of the extreme difficulty of starting cooperation in all fields after World War II, aiming at achieving a genuine union of federal type in the future. The only alternative to non-cooperation between the founding States could only be that of a functional collaboration in defined sectors. The functionalist logic was the main path followed in the process of European integration in the following years, between stall phases and recovery, which led to an ever closer and varied integration that have made the EU an economic giant and a geopolitical dwarf.
The most critical moment in the life of the European Community was certainly the empty chair crisis (1965), but the subsequent Luxembourg Compromise (1966) constituted a tangible proof of the fact that, despite the existence of a persistent disagreement between member States on many issues, however, a common will prevailed so to allow the community of the six countries the resumption of the journey. Today, in a similar critical stage in the EU's life, despite many differences between Member States, the burning issue is understanding if there is still a common will to continue together the journey started over 60 years ago.
2017, a celebratory year for the EU, is also a key year for the future of the process of European integration. The elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany represent the danger of further growth of xenophobic forces and extreme right; the Brexit issue and the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU opened unexplored scenarios, with the risk of centrifugal forces (primarily in Scotland); the rigidity of some countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Czech Reubblic) in accepting the relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy have deeply undermined confidence in European solidarity; economic austerity policies have cracked the opinion on the EU, especially among the public opinion of the member States on the Mediterranean. In addition, an uncertain international geopolitical situation, due to the new United States attitude of Donald Trump towards the EU and NATO, the aggressiveness of Russia and Turkey, and countless other crises, call on Europe to make courageous choices in terms of foreign policy, defense and security.
On March 6, at the Varsailles summit between Germany, France, Italy and Spain, the leaders of the four largest EU countries have recognized the possibility that some Member States can move forward more quickly in the integration process, paving the way for a multi-speed Europe. Well, this seems the only realistic way to go. In fact, the establishment of a federal Europe is currently impossible, since it would be necessary to deeply change the treaties and, at present, no common agreement between the 27 Member States could be found. On the other hand, stand still would be useless if not harmful, considering the strong international geopolitical instability and slow economic recovery in many European countries. Instead, a multi-speed Europe, or variable geometry Europe, is in fact already possible according to the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, with the enhanced cooperation procedure. This would allow at least nine EU countries to undertake closer cooperation in a specific area within the EU structures without the involvement of all member States. The authorisation to proceed with enhanced cooperation shall be granted by the Council, on a proposal from the European Commission and with the approval of the European Parliament. This procedure was designed in the '90s to overcome a paralysis that might occur when a proposal was blocked by a single country or a group of countries who do not wish to be part of a certain initiative. However, the enhanced cooperation procedure does not allow an expansion of subjects beyond those permitted by the EU treaties and, so far, there are only three cases in which this procedure has been implemented, in particular in the field of divorce law, property rights for international couples and patents. Conversely, enhanced cooperation in the field of financial transactions failed when the member States intending to establish it realized that they would then found themselves in a competitive disadvantage with the other member States that would not apply that taxation. Therefore, the realization of a multi-speed Europe is a scenario that poses unclear prospects.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, which recently presented a White Paper on the Future of Europe, identifying some of the EU's development scenarios, though without suggesting any direction, said: «I wish that Rome was the time of the great aspirations of Europe. Redialing, not only intellectual, of the passion that Europeans must have for Europe. Tenderness between us has disappeared and without love you do not build nothing lasting. I do not demand that Europeans should love each other as partners love each other in a couple, but I warn from the toils of routine. Couples know what I mean. Sometimes it needs a new fire in the relations between men and women. And the same principle applies to the peoples».
The celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome will take place Saturday, March 25, 2017, at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Campidoglio in Rome, where the Heads of State and Government of the EU and the leaders of the European institutions will meet. Echoing what was said by Giorgio Napolitano, in an interview with daily “La Stampa” on February11, EU leaders should «give concrete answers on urgent and burning issues, strongly felt by the people or at least incumbent on the actions of national governments and in Brussels». In addition, it is necessary to "re-launch a political discourse on the future of Europe, that restores vigor to the original inspiration of 1950, [...] marking a clear divide between the EU member countries which are ready to accept new transfers of sovereignty from national to European level, and those which not only do not wish to join it but want to escape to what was decided in that sense». Eventually, as written by Jean Monnet in 1976, «Europe will be built through crises, and will consist of the sum of the solutions that will be given to these crises." The hope, at least for some Europeans, is that Europe will rise more solid and closer to its citizens after this crisis, being also aware of the role that it can play only as a united Europe in an increasingly complex world.