EU marks 60th birthday with renewal of vows

EU leaders posing for a family photo in Rome yesterday. In the front row are European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (left), Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (third from left), EU President Donald Tusk (fourth from left), France's Pre
A woman and her dog join demonstrators at a pro-European Union rally in Rome yesterday during a special summit of the grouping's leaders on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Police in the city were on alert yesterday as around 30,000 protesters were expected to take part in pro- and anti-Europe marches throughout the day.PHOTO: REUTERS
EU leaders posing for a family photo in Rome yesterday. In the front row are European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (left), Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (third from left), EU President Donald Tusk (fourth from left), France's Pre
EU leaders posing for a family photo in Rome yesterday. In the front row are European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (left), Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (third from left), EU President Donald Tusk (fourth from left), France's President Francois Hollande (sixth from left), and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (third from right).PHOTO: REUTERS

Troubled bloc's leaders commit to common future without UK at special summit in Rome

ROME • European Union leaders renewed their vows at a special summit in Rome yesterday, celebrating the bloc's 60th anniversary with a commitment to a common future without Britain.

Meeting without British Prime Minister Theresa May, the other 27 member countries signed a declaration of unity on the Capitoline Hill where six founding states signed the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.

With the EU facing crises including migration, a moribund economy, terrorism and populism, as well as Brexit, EU President Donald Tusk called for leadership to shore up the bloc.

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

The Rome Declaration that the leaders signed proclaims that "Europe is our common future", and sets out the path for the next decade in a rapidly changing world.

"It is a bit of a tighter squeeze in the room today" than when the original six states signed up, joked Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni after welcoming the leaders to the Renaissance-era Palazzo dei Conservatori for a ceremony long on pomp and short on real politics.

"We have had 60 years of peace in Europe and we owe it to the courage of the founding fathers," Mr Gentiloni said, acknowledging that a string of crises had combined to bring the process of European integration to a standstill.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker insisted the EU could ride out recent storms.

"Daunting as they are, the challenges we face today are in no way comparable to those faced by the founding fathers," he said, recalling how the new Europe was built from the ashes of World War II.

"We are standing on the shoulders of giants," Mr Juncker said, voicing confidence that the EU would still be around to celebrate its 100th birthday.

The White House, meanwhile, congratulated the EU overnight on its 60th birthday, in a notable shift in tone for President Donald Trump's administration, whose deep scepticism about the bloc has alarmed Brussels.

Mrs May's absence, four days before she launches the two-year Brexit process, and a row over the wording of the Rome declaration have underscored the challenges the EU faces.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo agreed to sign the declaration only at the last minute, after bitterly opposing a reference to a "multi- speed" Europe favoured by powerhouse states France and Germany.

Poland, central Europe's largest economy, is concerned that as one of nine of the EU's current 28 members outside the euro zone, it could be left behind should countries sharing the single currency push ahead with integration.

The aim of the summit was to channel the spirit of the Treaty of Rome that Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and West Germany signed six decades ago to create the European Economic Community.

Police in Rome were on alert yesterday not only for lone wolf attackers, but also violent anti-Europe demonstrators. Around 30,000 protesters were expected to take part in four separate marches - both pro- and anti-Europe - throughout the day.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'EU marks 60th birthday with renewal of vows'. Print Edition | Subscribe