by Elisabeth Hellenbroich
On March 25th and 26th 27 heads of states gathered for a summit in Rome in order to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the “Treaty of Rome.” This treaty that was signed on 25th March 1957 marked a major turning point in the history of Europe which was slowly recovering from the terrible damages of the Second World War. Among the signatories of the historic agreement between 7 states were Christian Pineau from France, Joseph Luns from Netherlands, Paul Henri Spaak from Belgium, Joseph Bech from Luxembourg, Antonio Segni from Italy and Konrad Adenauer from the Federal Republic of Germany.
The treaty consisted of two treaties- one which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the second which established 0the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The signatories stated that they were “determined to found an even closer union among the peoples of Europe” and intended to create an economic more prosperous and harmonious Europe.
60 years later Europe has enlarged into a Union which includes 27 members’ states. After the Brexit referendum nine months ago which ended with a firm vote in favor of the British government’s exit from the EU, for the first time Great Britain didn’t participate at the Rome summit.
A few days after the Rome celebrations the British Prime Minister officially announced in a parliamentary speech (28th of March), under which conditions and in what time frame the British government intended to complete the negotiations for a Brexit. She stated that “this is a historical moment, from which there cannot be any return.” In a letter addressed to EU Commission President Donald Tusk, the British Prime Minister officially reaffirmed Great Britain’s intent to leave the European Union. This automatically sets into motion the two years’ time frame during which complicated exit negotiations between London and Brussels will take place. They will probably be finished by spring 2019. In her letter to EU Commissioner Donald Tusk Teresa May stated that Great Britain aims at constructing however a deep and special partnership with the EU. “We leave the EU but we don’t leave Europe,” she stated, adding that “this decision doesn’t mean a rejection of the European values which we share as Europeans.” She expressed the hope that there will be in the future not only economic but also security cooperation with the EU and that Britain wants to achieve an “ambitious and courageous Free Trade agreement with the EU.” In a guest commentary to the German Daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ, 30.03.17) May wrote: “We want Europe to remain strong and wealthy and to be able to propagate its values and take a leadership role in the world.”
EU summit in Rome under stress of voters growing discontent
During the 2 days summit in Rome there were lots of discussions behind the scenes, with resistance especially coming from Poland and Greece. A look at the final “Rome declaration” demonstrates that the Union holds firm, despite very dark clouds on the horizon (including upcoming presidential elections in France with a possible surprise result for the populist French Front National, elections in some German federal States- as prelude to the general elections end in September, which show a wide split in the traditional party system and wide spread fear among the citizenry). The general pattern emerging in Europe is a deep split between the leading institutions and the elites and the citizenry that wants to be taken more seriously in its concerns. The final declaration in Rome tried to spread optimism. It made the appeal that in light of the many challenges (regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities), the EU should become stronger and more resilient through even greater unity and solidarity amongst them and the respect of common rules: “We will act together at different paces and intensity where necessary ,while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past, in line with the treaties and keeping the door open to those who want to join later.”
The declaration called for a European Union where all citizens feel safe and can move freely, where the external borders are secured; a European Union with an efficient and responsible and sustainable migration policy, respecting international norms; a Europe that is determined to fight terrorism and organized crime. A prosperous and sustainable European Union which creates growth and jobs and a social Europe which is based on sustainable growth and promotes economic and social progress, taking into account the “diversity of national systems and the key role of social partners.” It urged the Union to fight unemployment, discrimination, social exclusion and poverty and where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent and it strongly called for a Union “which preserves our cultural heritage and promotes cultural diversity” as well as a stronger Europe on a global scene with partnership across the Mideast and Africa.
Crisis is also a challenge
At the eve of the summit Pope Francis received the heads of state and government of the European Union in Rome. He gave an extraordinary address in which he essentially outlined what from his point of view should be considered as the “core concept of Europe”. He urged the state leaders to act today in the spirit of the “legacy” of the founding fathers. The two treaties which were signed on the 25th of March 1957, the Pope stated, gave “life to an economic, cultural and primarily human reality which we call today European Union.” He pointed out that the leaders of the time, having lived through the tragedies of the second world war, “had faith in the possibility of a better future.(…) The founding fathers remind us that Europe is not a conglomeration of rules to obey , or a manual of protocols and procedures to follow. It is a way of life, a way of understanding man based on his transcendent and inalienable dignity, as something more than simply a sum of rights to defend or claims to advance.”
At the origin of the idea of Europe, the Pope emphasized, we find “the nature and the responsibility of the human person, with his ferment of evangelical fraternity…, with his desire for truth and justice, honed by a thousand- year-old experience.” The heart of the European project is man himself and linked to the idea of Europe is the concept of “solidarity.” The common will of Europe, based on “solidarity” is more powerful than the will of individual nations and egoistic self- interests, as the founding fathers claimed at the time, he said.“Those founding fathers were impassioned by the pursuit of the common good, and their common denomination was the spirit of service, joined to passion for politics and the consciousness that ‘at the origin of European civilization there is Christianity,’ without which the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice would prove largely incomprehensible.,” . The same Christian and human values which guided the founding fathers are still alive, according to the Pope. Respect for the dignity of the human person, a profound sense of justice, freedom, industriousness, the spirit of initiative, love of family, respect for life, tolerance, the desire for cooperation and peace.
He reminded the leaders that there is however a big cultural difference between 1957 and today. While the founding fathers laid the basis for a period which was characterized by “hope”, our times today are dominated by the concept of “crisis”, the Pope stated. The symptoms of this crisis are: an economic crisis; a crisis of the family and of established social models; a widespread ‘crisis of institutions’ and the migration crisis. But every crisis means also a challenge and opportunity to think about what the original idea of Europe was, the “legacy” of the founding fathers of Europe and on what pillars the future Europe should be based. These essential pillars include the concept of the “centrality of man”, effective solidarity, openness to the world, the pursuit of peace and development, openness to the future. In general this means that “Europe finds new hope when man is the center and the heart of her institutions.”
Peace is the new name for development
An affirmation of the “centrality of man”, also means recovering the “spirit of family”, whereby each contributes freely to the common home in accordance with his or her own abilities and gifts. It helps to keep in mind that Europe is a “family of peoples” and that – as in every good family – there are different sensitivities, yet all can grow to the extent that all are united. The European Union was born as a unity of difference and a unity in differences”, the Pope stated. What could serve as a new guideline, according to the Pope, is the concept of “solidarity” which is the most effective “antidote to modern forms of populism.”
60 years ago there was a deep sentiment of “hope” which inspired the founding fathers of the European Union. Today however as the Pope correctly observed Europe is marked by a deep anxiety which essentially has its roots in the “loss of ideals”. Yet, the same Europe “has a patrimony of ideals and spiritual values unique in the world”, one that deserves to be proposed once more with passion and renewed vigor, for it is the best antidote against the vacuum of values of our time which provides a fertile terrain for every form of extremism. And Europe finds new hope when she invests in peace and development.
Pope Francis referred to Pope John Paul II who had correctly stated that “peace is a new name for development.” This concept from the Pope’s point of view is relevant for the construction of a future Europe. Its implication is that peace means above all economic justice and a deep respect for the youth and for the ideals of the citizens of Europe: “There is no true peace whenever people are cast aside or forces to live in dire poverty. There is no peace without employment and the prospect of earning a dignified wage. There is no peace in the peripheries of our cities, with their rampant drug abuse and violence. Europe finds new hope when she is open to the future. When she is open to young people, offering them serious prospects for education and real possibilities for entering the work force. When she invests in the family, which is the first and fundamental cell of society. When she respects the consciences and the ideal of her citizens. When she makes it possible to have children without the fear of being unable to support them. When she defends life in all its sacredness.”
Wiesbaden, April 2017