Sixty years ago, the foundations of the European Union were laid in Rome, when Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, and established the European Economic Community (EEC).
On Saturday, the EU leaders have met in Rome to discuss the future of the Union. But the situation is very different that it was sixty years ago. EU-enthusiasm is at an all-time low. More than ever before, the EU is facing challenges that threaten the very idea of common European unity.
The meeting in Rome comes at a time when the UK is officially starting Brexit negotiations. British Prime Minister Theresa May was not among the EU leaders in Rome. Another serious source of concern for the EU is the upcoming French presidential election. While most polls predict that the pro-EU, centrist Emmanuel Macron will win the presidency, beating Marine Le Pen in the run-off, there is still a possibility that the staunchly anti-EU Le Pen might pull off an upset.
We only need to look at a very recent, and relevant example of US presidential election, where Donald Trump, considered a complete outsider by the political establishment, beat the much favored Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s unlikely electoral victory caused embarrassment for pollsters, many of whom had given him a 5 percent chance to win the election.
Now, with the real possibility of Le Pen entering the Elysee Palace, the EU is at a crossroad. In such circumstances, the EU marked the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
The EU leaders reiterated their commitment to building a stronger Union. The Rome Declaration was at the center of celebrations. The document talks of ‘peace and unity’, and it also promised to listen to citizens.
Prior to the meeting in Rome, there was much talk about the potential solutions to the current EU crisis, one of which was the concept of a ‘multispeed’ Europe. However, the document does not contain any reference to a multispeed Europe, instead setting the principle that countries continue all together.
The concept of a two-speed Europe meet with resistance from Central and Eastern European members.
‘The EU experience is over’
While EU leaders were signing the Rome Declaration in Campidoglio palace – the very same place that the six founding states signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 – protesters were gathering on the streets of Rome.
Among nearly 30,000 demonstrators, there were federalists, nationalists, unionists and anarchists, all of who gathered to express their attitude towards the EU.
While some have repeated their support for the EU, others stated that: “The EU experience is over for us.”