Seventy years ago, Europe was being torn apart by its second catastrophic conflict in a generation, but in the lapse of a decade something changed, hopefully forever. On 25 March 1957, a Treaty establishing the European Economic Community was signed in Rome by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany.
In 2017, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the historical moment when countries that had been fighting against each other for centuries decided to build together a peaceful and prosperous continent. The establishment of the EEC and the creation of the Common Market had a practical goal – transforming the conditions of trade and manufacture – but beneath them lied the idea that the six nations were willing to begin a path that would have eventually led to the construction of a political Europe.
The signature ceremony was held in the magnificent rooms of the Palazzo dei Conservatori on Capitoline Hill in Rome. Italy was chosen to host the event because of its leadership role in the negotiating process and the strong vision of its people and statesmen such as Altiero Spinelli, who have always been among the most supportive of the European ideals. The representatives from the six countries, who met in June 1955 at Messina, in Sicily, paved the way towards the EEC. The EEC later became what we today call the European Union, and its membership has grown to include twenty-eight member States – even if the United Kingdom is expected to leave the European family soon. The main purpose of the European Union was to secure peace. It has been achieved, and we should pay tribute to all those in the European Union who made that happen.
Unfortunately, while approaching the 60th anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome, European citizens perceive a string of crises: the Greek debt crisis, the refugee crisis, Brexit and so on. In the last few years, the challenges facing the European Union have not diminished – indeed they have grown, and today public disillusionment with the European Union is at an all-time high. The main, overriding purpose of the European Union has become to secure prosperity. To overcome such challenges and reach our new common goal, we need a more political Europe, with a stronger euro area at its centre and with solid legitimacy.
The European treaty commits the member states to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” It has been the compass we followed for the past sixty years and it remains our motto in these troubled times. The various crises mentioned before, have revealed a growing mistrust of our citizens towards their leaders and a growing distance between them and their governments. Brussels and the European Union are blamed for seeming indifferent to people’s concerns and driven by hidden agendas and voracious lobbies.
The future shape of Europe is being forged; a new Europe will be successful only if it relies on its own positive energies and spirit of solidarity as it has done in the past. I believe that Europe needs “more Europe.” Since the global financial crisis, national interests have been favoured by Member States, but now we need to prove that Europe can still offer its protection. If we want people to believe in Europe again, they need to feel safe within it. Today, the major threat comes from economic turmoil and international instability rather than the fear of a new war.
A more political Europe can provide the safety net that is needed to keep Europe together: projecting a vision of progress for its people, fighting for open societies and economies, and standing for its identity as it has been forged by history. Let me conclude by quoting Winston Churchill, who delivered a speech at the University of Zurich in September 1946. In the immediate aftermath of the war, he called on European countries to form a regional organisation for security and cooperation on the continent: “If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory which its 300 million or 400 million people would enjoy. […] Therefore I say to you: Let Europe arise!” Churchill’s words are as relevant as ever.