EU leaders seek unity on 60th anniversary of founding treaty

  • 2017-03-25
  • BNS/TBT Staff

ROME - EU leaders gather in Rome this weekend mark the 60th anniversary of the EU's founding document as leaders look to define the bloc's future and defend its values on multiple fronts with Brexit negotiations looming.

Saturday's commemoration of the 1957 signing of the Treaty of Rome will be attended by only 27 of the bloc's 28 leaders, with British Prime Minister Theresa May the notable absentee. It begins with an audience with Pope Francis on Friday evening.

The Pope will likely provide guidance to the leaders as they aim to chart the future of the EU, in terms of both cooperation within the bloc and Europe's place in the world.

Francis, the first pope to hail from Latin America, has been an outspoken supporter of the EU.

In 2016 he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in Europe, in recognition of service in promoting the reunification of Europe.

During his acceptance speech, Francis warned against giving up on the dream of the EU's founders and giving in to the temptation "to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there."

"Nonetheless, I am convinced that resignation and weariness do not belong to the soul of Europe, and that even our problems can become powerful forces for unity," Francis said.

On Saturday, the main ceremony will be held in the newly restored hall of the Capitoline Museum, where the Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25, 1957.

The treaty set up the European Economic Community, a six-nation customs union that later led to the creation of the EU.

In a letter addressed to EU leaders, European Council President Donald Tusk said the commemoration was "an opportunity to reflect on the state of the European Union and the future of the integration process."

"It is no secret that the historical moment we are facing requires deeper and more solid reflection on the challenges for the union in the short and medium term," Tusk said.

One of the most pressing issues is defining the future of Europe without Britain. The summit comes just days ahead of Britain's official notification on March 29 to leave the bloc.

Another question is how remaining EU member states should continue their cooperation within the union.

In a political declaration to be adopted in Rome, leaders are expected to endorse a vision for the EU whereby members can opt to cooperate more closely with groups of countries on certain issues - an approach dubbed "multi-speed Europe."

While certain differentiations already exist in the EU, for example between eurozone and non-eurozone countries, the approach would allow groups of countries to integrate more deeply if they choose to do so, which could lead to further divisions.

Germany and France are among the main supporters of the idea.

However, Central European countries, including Poland and Hungary, have rejected the notion of different groups moving at different speeds, warning that it would lead to one group of countries being left behind.

It remains to be seen if leaders will be able to set aside their differences in Rome to show a unified front and renew confidence in the EU's future, both inside and outside the bloc.