On EU’s 60th anniversary, leaders give Union a 10-year horizon

Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Joseph Muscat, Paolo Gentiloni, Antonio Tajani at the Rome summit presser. [European Parliament]

On the day proclaimed as the EU’s 60th anniversary, with the Union looking weaker than ever, EU leaders adopted the Rome Declaration and gave a ten-year horizon for the project of the founding fathers to be reset.

Meeting without Britain, the other 27 member countries on Saturday (25 March) endorsed the Rome Declaration, on the Capitoline Hill where the six founding states signed the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957.

“There will be a 100th birthday of the European Union,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in an interview with German television ahead of the summit.

The leaders had the words of Pope Francis ringing in their ears, after he warned on the eve of the summit that the crisis-ridden bloc “risks dying” without a new vision.

Pope Francis to share wisdom with EU leaders ahead of Rome summit

EU heads of state and government are planning to meet with Pope Francis in Rome on 24 March, ahead of the summit expected to provide a vision for the future of the EU after Brexit, diplomats told EURACTIV.com.

The Argentine pontiff urged the leaders at a personal audience in the Vatican City on Friday to show solidarity as an “antidote” to populist parties whose popularity has surged in Europe.

The Rome Declaration, which was negotiated in deep secrecy by diplomats representing the countries’ governments, shies away from acknowledging past mistakes or providing an explanation why the EU got bogged down, and why populists in key countries are on the rise.

The declaration speaks of “unprecedented challenges”: regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities.

“Together, we are determined to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world and to offer to our citizens both security and new opportunities.” The word “citizens” appears five times in the one-and a half page text.

“Unity” is another key word that appears four times.

“We will make the European Union stronger and more resilient, through even greater unity and solidarity amongst us and the respect of common rules. Unity is both a necessity and our free choice,” the leaders agreed to state.

Poland, unhappy with the re-election of Donald Tusk as president of the Council, agreed not to spoil the party by vetoing the declaration.

Poland warns it may not adopt EU's Rome Declaration

Poland may not accept the Rome Declaration, which will chart the European Union’s course after Britain leaves, if the document does not touch upon issues Warsaw considers crucial, the country’s prime minister said.

“In the ten years to come we want a Union that is safe and secure, prosperous, competitive, sustainable and socially responsible, and with the will and capacity of playing a key role in the world and of shaping globalisation. We want a Union where citizens have new opportunities for cultural and social development and economic growth. We want a Union which remains open to those European countries that respect our values and are committed to promoting them,” the declaration reads.

It further identifies four areas in which leaders pledge to work towards:

  • A safe and secure Europe: a Union where all citizens feel safe and can move freely, where our external borders are secured, with an efficient, responsible and sustainable migration policy, respecting international norms; a Europe determined to fight terrorism and organised crime.
  • A prosperous and sustainable Europe: a Union which creates growth and jobs; a Union where a strong, connected and developing single market, embracing technological transformation, and a stable and further strengthened single currency open avenues for growth, cohesion, competitiveness, innovation and exchange, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises; a Union promoting sustained and sustainable growth, through investment, structural reforms and working towards completing the Economic and Monetary Union; a Union where economies converge; a Union where energy is secure and affordable and the environment clean and safe.
  • A social Europe: a Union which, based on sustainable growth, promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence, while upholding the integrity of the internal market; a Union taking into account the diversity of national systems and the key role of social partners; a Union which promotes equality between women and men as well as rights and equal opportunities for all; a Union which fights unemployment, discrimination, social exclusion and poverty; a Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent; a Union which preserves our cultural heritage and promotes cultural diversity.
  • A stronger Europe on the global scene: a Union further developing existing partnerships, building new ones and promoting stability and prosperity in its immediate neighbourhood to the east and south, but also in the Middle East and across Africa and globally; a Union ready to take more responsibilities and to assist in creating a more competitive and integrated defence industry; a Union committed to strengthening its common security and defence, also in cooperation and complementarity with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, taking into account national circumstances and legal commitments; a Union engaged in the United Nations and standing for a rules-based multilateral system, proud of its values and protective of its people, promoting free and fair trade and a positive global climate policy.

Leaders said they believe the EU is “the best instrument” to achieve these objectives.

“We pledge to listen and respond to the concerns expressed by our citizens and will engage with our national parliaments,” the declaration says. On the highly sensitive issue of the option of a multi-speed Europe, the agreed compromise reads:

“We will allow for the necessary room for manoeuvre at the various levels to strengthen Europe’s innovation and growth potential. We want the Union to be big on big issues and small on small ones. We will promote a democratic, effective and transparent decision-making process and better delivery.”

Speaking at the press conference, Commission President Juncker said that the declaration was the beginning of a “feeling of change”. Indeed, the process of re-setting the EU is expected to end by December. He also said that for the time being, there had been no “big clash” in the process.

The summit presser was rather short, and it appeared that the distribution of questions had been decided by the EU services.

Last night the White House congratulated the EU on its 60th birthday, in a notable shift in tone for President Donald Trump’s administration, whose deep scepticism about the bloc has alarmed Brussels.

Trump suddenly likes the EU?

Donald Trump expressed support for the European Union on Thursday (23 February), which is surprising against the background previous remarks.

“Our two continents share the same values and, above all, the same commitment to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy, and the rule of law,” the White House said in a statement.

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