The EU at 60: Rome Summit is a chance to renew our vows

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

European leaders in Rome in 1957. [European Parliament]

That the EU has lasted 60 years is impressive, but if we want to guarantee its future in a changing world, we must reaffirm why EU countries should stay together, write Gianni Pittella and Maria João Rodrigues.

Gianni Pittella is an Italian Socialist MEP and chair of the European Parliament’s S&D group. Maria João Rodrigues is a Portuguese Socialist MEP and vice-chair of the S&D group.

On 25 March, EU leaders will come together in Rome to celebrate an anniversary. In 1957, political leaders from six countries met there to sign treaties establishing the European Economic Community and Atomic Energy Community. Historical footage shows us aged men in suits, who couldn’t possibly imagine that in 2017, the European Union would have grown from these modest roots to have become a political union of 28 countries.

If the signatories of 1957 were still here they would be proud to look back at six decades of peace and prosperity in an enlarged EU. But let’s not get nostalgic. We do not have the luxury of treating the Rome summit as a 60th wedding anniversary – reminiscing on good times passed. We face too many problems for that. If we want the EU to still exist in another 20 years, let alone 60, we must use this as an opportunity to renew our vows and shape a new positive future for our Union.

This is why Europe’s Socialists & Democrats are calling for a substantial and clear plan for the EU-27 to be agreed at the Rome summit. We have written to Commission President Juncker with detailed proposals for the forthcoming paper on the future of the EU. For us, this future depends on urgent action in four main areas: prosperity, security and human rights, international cooperation, and democracy.

Shared prosperity

The current generation of young Europeans are the most educated and highly skilled in the history of the continent. However, their ambitions and dreams are too often being crushed in a labour market that offers too few decent jobs. To tackle this we need to stimulate the economy, ensure good working conditions for all and see that prosperity is shared more fairly. Europe needs a proper investment strategy that supports the industries of the future – clean energy, digitalisation, education, healthcare and services that offer us a better quality of life. This needs to go hand-in-hand with a strong European pillar of social rights, which reconciles new forms of work with our existing social model.

These measures will be more effective if we can fix the structural problems within the eurozone and tackle the scourge of tax evasion. We need to look at ideas for a common eurozone budget as well as measures to respond better to future financial shocks. All of this would be much easier if big multinational companies and rich individuals did not hide so much money offshore. We will push the Commission to get serious about fighting tax evasion, so that all Europeans really are in this together.

Security, migration and Human Rights

With threats of terrorism, insecurity on Europe’s borders, and an unpredictable US president, it is clear Europe must become more self-sufficient in terms of security. We need to see better cooperation between EU countries on defence and our police and internal security forces need to work better together to prevent terrorist attacks and crack down on organised crime.

We also need to find a better, more permanent solution on migration and asylum. This means secure borders but also a genuine European asylum system where responsibilities are shared between all member states. This also means stepping up cooperation with neighbouring countries to ensure migration is managed it an effective way, in line with our international obligations.

International cooperation

While Mr Trump and other “strongmen” are disturbing the multilateral principles of the international system, Europe is a natural champion of international cooperation. Partners in North and South America, Africa and Asia are expecting us to continue standing up for peace, diplomacy, sustainable development and the fight against climate change. We need to revise our trade policies to focus even more on labour standards, social fairness, tax justice and environmental protection. On this basis, Europe can become a real leader in the multipolar world.

Democracy in the EU

The EU-27 will only be able to promote prosperity, security and international cooperation if they assert themselves as a powerful democratic entity in economic, social, cultural and geopolitical terms. Far too often important decisions are put off or taken by opaque technical bodies behind closed doors. If we are to reconnect the European Union with citizens, decisions need to be taken in an open and transparent way. This must also be true for the Brexit negotiations – with the European Parliament being involved throughout the process.

Going forward, we need to rethink how the EU is funded with genuine own resources. National governments are increasingly asking the EU to do more for less. This is not sustainable. Giving the EU the ability to raise its own revenue is a win-win situation – national treasuries can contribute less to Brussels while the Union as a whole is better able to deal with shared challenges.

Reaffirming why we want to be together

Keeping any union together for 60 years is an impressive feat – managing it when that union has 27 members is remarkable. In Rome, we should look back on what has been achieved with a sense of pride but in these challenging times we must also use it as a chance to reaffirm why we want to be together. If we can do that and can create a new positive vision for the EU then there will be many more anniversaries to come. If we do not, Brexit could just be the start of one of the messiest divorces in history.

The full letter from the S&D Group to President Juncker can be read here.

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