March 26, 2017
Written by Adela Alexandra Iacoboc, Content Officer (Politics & Institutions)
Last Saturday, on the 25th of March, Europe was celebrating 60 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the EU’s founding treaty officially establishing the European Economic Community. The Treaty of Rome enshrined into law the foundation of the European project, which brought about 60 years of peace and ever-increasing cooperation, integration and interdependence in Europe, intertwining the economic and political paths of its member states in a complexly expanding web that nowadays spans from Portugal to Malta and from Finland to Cyprus.
Without a doubt, on the 25th of March 2017, the European Union’s leaders met to discuss not just the successes of the European project on its 60th anniversary, but also its failures. Behind closed doors, they were likely attempting to shape their negotiating tactics to address the EU’s biggest failure yet: Britain’s historic decision to leave the bloc. After 60 years of slow but continuous progress towards an “ever closer union”, 2017 marks the first year that will see an irreversible step decidedly taken in the opposite direction.
A milestone and a turning point
Scarred by the severe, prolongued economic crisis which spilled into a wider political crisis, paralyzing the EU’s capacity to respond to the subsequent refugee crisis, the Union’s 60th anniversary is both a milestone and a turning point for the continent. After half a century of expansion for free trade and globalization, the tide is turning around the world as populist movements gain unprecedented support, putting up walls and vilifying Europeanisation.
The core European values of cooperation, tolerance and solidarity are under the strain of the multitude of economic, social and political issues triggered by the series of prolongued crises, while terror attacks across the European capitals are using fear to divide the population, making the case for closing borders and excluding “the others” to protect the elusive national interests.
This Europe seems very different to the Europe the 1989 Generation grew up in, worryingly bearing more resemblance to the Europe our grandparents grew up in. As 89ers, we grew up enjoying all the benefits of EU membership, in a continent that opened itself up with endless possibilities, from Erasmus and interrailing to the French wines in our supermarkets. This is precisely why, at a turning point for the EU, it is essential that our generation stands up to ensure the EU’s future resembles the European project we want to live in, and doesn’t derail into a continent of closed borders, petty political squibbles and regression to the brutality that characterized our grandparents’ Europe.
Responsibility and reflection
The 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome must be a time for reflection of an ambitious political project, a realist assessment of what it can deliver to cirizens that feel alienated by an establishment they do not relate to, and how it can revamp itself to avoid the unraveling of the values it fought so hard to foster. The European Commission’s White Paper is a testimony of the EU’s commitment to this mission, an attempt to build compromise and appease the diverging interests of soon 27 member states. But the direction of the European project will now be decided amidst gruelling negotiations in an unfriendly political climate, with national elections looming and extremist, populist movements restricting policy-makers room for maneuver.
It is now our responsibility, as Europeans, regardless of Brexit, to engage and ensure the EU that emerges from these negotiations is a continent that we’d still like to live in. In the most hostile political and economic context of the past 60 years, we must stand up, cross-borders, in true European fashion, to protect the values that the Treaty of Rome has coined into law. The habit of international cooperation that EU laws have developed and operationalized remains the only way forward in a globalized world facing complex, international problems that do not recognize borders, from terrorism to climate change.
International cooperation remains the only way forward in a globalized world
It is now our responsibility not only to make sure the continent stays open to be able to tackle those challenges, but to make sure that the Europeanisation we have enjoyed works for every European citizen, not just a globe-trotting liberal minority. The challenge for the EU’s 7th decade will not be how to integrate diverging national legislative systems, but how to translate integration into utility for citizens, and the demos’ engagement will define the success or failure of this mission.
If we want to continue living in a Europe that we can recognize, it is our turn to start fighting to defend its values. On this historic occasion, it shouldn’t be just politicians in Rome reflecting on ways forward for the European project. It should be every European who still believes in its values.
Photo by European Council, used under CC license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)1989 Generation