12162019What's Hot:

E.U. Leaders Sign Rome Declaration and Proclaim a ‘Common Future’ (Minus Britain)

A keynote speaker, Donald Tusk of Poland, the president of the European Council, recalled that his 60th birthday this month made him the “same age as the European Community,” a forerunner of the union, and a beacon for freedom and dignity for Poles during the Communist era, when “it was forbidden to even dream about those values.”

But behind the pomp and ceremony were concerns about the prospect of the project’s failure — even its collapse. With Britain this Wednesday starting a two-year timetable to leave the union, Prime Minister Theresa May was absent from the gathering. And in a speech at the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis pointedly warned the leaders, including President François Hollande of France, that their union “risks dying” as nations, and citizens, turned inward.

Underlining the disaffection with the union, more than 25,000 people, many of them angered by years of cutbacks and belt-tightening, were expected to march on Saturday through central Rome, where security is expected to be doubly tight in light of the deadly rampage in central London on Wednesday.

A particular target of protesters is the single currency, the euro — the bloc’s flagship economic project — seen by many as unfairly benefiting some countries like Germany while imposing painful austerity on other nations like Greece.

There also is rising dissatisfaction with Europe’s claims to moral leadership in human rights since the introduction of tougher policies to limit the entry of refugees and migrants fleeing war-torn and poverty stricken countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Four marches, sit-ins and other happenings were scheduled for Saturday, though most planned to celebrate the treaty. The March for Europe held a rally close to the Roman palazzo where the signing took place.

“Europe gave us 60 years of peace, so I felt I had to give something back,” said Mauro Armadi, 23, who traveled to Rome from Taranto, in Puglia, to show his support for the treaty.

“Italy is too small to face globalization,” he said, “but as part of the European Union we can face the challenges of the world ahead.”

Tobias Lundquist, 26, who traveled to Rome from Sandviken, Sweden, said, “With the European Union we cast off our dark history and came together to solve problems at a table, not a battlefield.”

But he expressed concerns about rising extremism in some countries. “We can’t relax, but we must try to figure out more long-term strategies for Europe,” he said.

Bojer Kinzonzi, 20, a communications student from Paris, mulled the question: Is the future of Europe at risk? He said: “I am worried like a mother worries that something will happen to her child. But I am more hopeful than worried.”

Mr. Tusk encouraged the demonstrators filling the streets of European capitals this weekend to connect with the bloc’s history in order to understand how far the Continent had come. He also exhorted the bloc’s leaders to rise to the challenge of reviving faith in the project.

“Prove today that you are the leaders of Europe, that you care for this great legacy we inherited from the heroes of European integration 60 years ago,” Mr. Tusk said.

Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister, who opened the ceremony, said the founders of the European project “shared the same splendid obsession not to divide but to unite.” He added that they resolved after the “evil” of two world wars “to put behind us the demons of nationalism.”

The European leaders arrived on giant red carpets before entering the marbled hallways at the Renaissance-era palace with the aim to rebut myriad concerns on Saturday. But there was even dissension in the run-up to the gathering, with Poland and Greece threatening to block the Rome Declaration.

Since the signing of the treaty that created important precursor institutions to the European Union, the bloc has more than quadrupled in size. It is the largest trading bloc in the world and the biggest donor of development and humanitarian aid; it has absorbed formerly Communist countries in Eastern Europe and has created a giant single market with more than 500 million consumers.

It has also knocked down barriers to freedom to travel and work in neighboring states, creating lifelong bonds across frontiers that were formerly guarded.

Above all, the bloc’s founding idea of making war between nations with mutual self-interest unthinkable has held — a point underlined on Friday by the pope, who described the period since 1957 as “the longest period of peace experienced in recent centuries.”

Yet the project is reeling from recent the crises over the euro and migration that helped push the British to vote to leave the bloc in a referendum last June. Britain’s rejection prompted concerns populist leaders opposed to the European project could be on the cusp of taking power in other countries.

That threat was beaten back this month in the Netherlands where the center-right party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte won more votes than Geert Wilders, a ferocious critic of Islam who opposes the European Union.

Still, hanging over the Rome gathering is the outcome of the French presidential election in April, with a second round in May, and Germany’s elections in September.

But Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, said Saturday, “Let us not lose perspective.” As daunting as the challenges may feel today, he said, they were “in no way comparable to those faced by our founding fathers.” Europe, he said, had already “managed to achieve almost eternal peace.”

Source: NYT > World

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic