E.U. celebrates 60 years by signing unity pledge
rome — With Britain poised to start divorce proceedings, the 27 remaining European Union nations put pen to paper Saturday in Rome to renew their vows for continued unity in the face of crises that are increasingly testing the bonds between members.
The E.U. nations marked the 60th anniversary of their founding treaty as a turning point in their history, as British Prime Minister Theresa May will officially trigger divorce proceedings from the bloc next week — a fact that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called “a tragedy.”
Determined to show that unity is the only way ahead in a globalized world, the E.U. leaders were able to walk away from a summit without acrimony, which was already sort of a victory.
“We didn’t have a major clash or conflict, contrary to what many thought,” Juncker said.
E.U. Council President Donald Tusk said that sustained unity was the only way for the E.U. to survive.
“Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all,” he told E.U. leaders at a solemn session in the same ornate hall on the ancient Capitoline Hill where the Treaty of Rome, which founded the union, was signed on March 25, 1957.
To move ahead though, the E.U. leaders recognized that full unity on all things will be unworkable. Pushed by several Western European nations, they enshrined a pledge to give member nations more freedom to form partial alliances and set policy when unanimity is out of reach.
“We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction,” said the Rome Declaration signed by the 27 nations.
The E.U. has often used a multispeed approach in the past, with only 19 nations using the shared euro currency and not all members participating in the Schengen borderless travel zone. The approach has already been extended to social legislation and even divorce rules among E.U. nationals.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to assuage fears that it would lead to a further unraveling of unity.
“The Europe of different speeds does not in any way mean that it is not a common Europe,” Merkel said after the ceremony. “We are saying here very clearly that we want to go in a common direction. And there are things that are not negotiable” — the E.U. freedom of movement for goods, people and services.
With Britain leaving, the mantle of recalcitrant member seems to have been taken over by Poland. Still, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, unmissable in a bright yellow jacket, was more subdued than at the last E.U. summit two weeks ago, when she refused to adopt conclusions that need unanimity. Poland also balked at signing the new treaty until the eve of the ceremony.
“The Rome declaration is the first stop toward renewing the unity of the E.U.,” Szydlo told reporters.
A child peeks through a “wind vent” hole of a huge European Union flag banner during a pro-Europe rally, on Saturday in Bucharest, Romania. Donald Tusk, president of the E.U. Council, says that sustained unity on the part of member states is the only way for the organization to survive.