Sixty years on, we must write a new chapter in our shared history

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

After meeting the Pope, EU leaders will attempt to set the bloc on its post-Brexit path. [European Union]

This is no time for nostalgia. The 60th anniversary celebrations of the Treaty of Rome are a chance to start a new chapter in Europe’s history, write Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller.

Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller are both Green MEPs and co-chairs of the European Parliament’s Greens/EFA group.

Sixty years ago in Rome, six nations deeply wounded by two world wars made the audacious gamble to move away from confrontation towards the harmony that common industrial and commercial interests would generate.

Relying on gradual integration of European societies, it was a step intended to deliver a political community. Yet over time, it became clear that political union would not automatically grow from economic integration but would require the building of a community with a sense of shared destiny.

Today, even ridden with crises, the European Union remains one of the greatest ambitions carried by Europeans and the most powerful breath of hope for all those who were living under the oppression of authoritarian regimes. In a continent with a bloody past, it is a pillar of peace and unprecedented cooperation among its peoples.

Today, we Europeans can broadly move and live freely throughout the EU; we share resources and devise common rules that have considerably improved the daily lives of 500 million Europeans. We have welcomed the democracies of the south, emancipated from their military dictators, and reunited a continent torn at its heart by the Iron Curtain.

Alas, these achievements cannot hide the crisis that has come to threaten much of this social, democratic and economic progress, a crisis that the EU and its member states have been unable to provide a viable and cohesive answer to.

The stubborn insistence on austerity policies, combined with the lack of common instruments and resources, and opaque and often dysfunctional institutions, has progressively damaged social cohesion, worsened inequalities and unemployment, increased public debt in many countries and hollowed out the promise of shared prosperity and solidarity.

Even free movement is now under threat. Politically weakened, the EU sets itself social and cultural targets without the means to achieve them. Fundamental rights are openly questioned by some radical right-wing governments with little challenge.

And worse, “Europe” is now perceived by a growing number of Europeans as a bureaucratic leviathan, trading away the common good for the sake of supposedly “undistorted” competition and private interests, unable to deal with common challenges such as migration, security and poverty.

This century’s challenges are global: climate and biodiversity, conflict and population displacement, digital technology and industry, tax evasion and organised crime have no respect for national borders. The EU is not perfect. But it’s our best chance to address them.

That is why we are in Rome: to reaffirm that Europe is and remains our common home and to reassert our intention to defend it against the misguided calls of new nationalisms and extremisms.

Europe’s greatest wealth does not lie in its economic power but in the value of its women and men. It is not a sterile concept, it lives every day through its citizens, workers, students and entrepreneurs. The European project must provide each and every one of them a reason for defending it.

This means that the EU must be our common framework, able to enlarge the scope of rights and freedoms, not restrict them. It means driving green transformation against the backdrop of the threats of climate change and the scarcity of resources, protecting the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the health of each of us.

It means investing in youth, in education, in new economic activities and quality jobs, and moving away from the dependence on fossil fuels and the polluting legacy of the past. It means creating a real EU budget to build solidarity, redefine welfare and fight exclusion and poverty. It means helping people escaping from war and misery, both those reaching our shores and those remaining far from us.

It means restoring the ambition to fight corruption, bad governance and the weakening of the rule of law and an end to the search for competitiveness through deregulation.

It also means a new impetus for an “ever closer Union”, echoing the hopes of 60 years ago. The EU must become an effective multi-level democracy, freed from the rule of unanimity and of mutual vetoes.

The succession of intergovernmental treaties and their amendments will not suffice. The EU needs a real constitutional process, establishing the separation of powers, the consolidation of fundamental rights and freedoms, and laying down the objectives of the Union within and outside its borders.

From Rome, Greens pledge to be an active part of a large alliance between civil society, trade unions, social movements and progressive political forces to lead towards a renewed pact for an EU-wide democracy. For us, this is a shared project and horizon; a community of values and an indispensable tool to build a just society.

Sixty years on, this is not the time for commemoration, much less for nostalgia. It is more than ever the time to write together a new chapter of our common history, one that is more cohesive and sustainable.

Subscribe to our newsletters