From top: European leaders assemble yesterday in Rome, Italy; Shane Heneghan
Cheap phone calls on holiday are of cold comfort to the jobless youth in the South.
Europe needs more.
Shane Heneghan writes:
This weekend EU leaders (what’s left of them) gathered in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome which began the process of European integration as we know it.
In an atmosphere of much mutual backslapping, the story of the European Union was celebrated and a brief declaration on the future of Europe was signed.
Yes, this anniversary comes at a time when the second biggest donor in the club is about to leave, but the declaration signed at Rome tries to make this look as much as possible as an opportunity as well as a difficulty.
The declaration and the celebration itself were, of course, peppered liberally with certain myths. The underlying narrative that European integration has been plain sailing since the late 50s is the easiest one to debunk.
If you go back into the newspaper archives of the 50th, 40th, and 30th anniversaries you will find the Union in various different midlife crises each time. In 2007, for example, the club was desperately trying to salvage something from the failed constitution project- which eventually became the Lisbon treaty.
Even the signing of the Treaty itself was done in a general atmosphere of malaise in the wake of the French Parliament rejecting the proposed European Defence Union a few years previously.
Perhaps this should serve as a warning to those so eager to see the EU gain a defence policy as a reaction to the Trump White House.
The declaration contains an admission that some states may wish to move forward at varying different speeds of integration – like this is something new – that this was even written down is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who has had half an eye on what has been going on in the past 60 years.
We have a multispeed Europe perhaps since day one – or at the very least since the signing of the Schengen agreement on free movement in the 1980s.
But of course, the most interesting thing about informal declarations like this is what is not mentioned.
Earlier this week, Greenpeace and other environmental actors lamented the fact that the text has no mention of climate change. This is missing an open goal. Even eurosceptics can sometimes be convinced that environmental issues like this need to be tackled at an international level.
Here Europe has a chance to make itself more cohesive and also, ya know, save the world. As a former Finnish Prime Minister once put it, the EU is like a shark- it must keep moving or it will sink. It needs a big idea.
Well meaning defenders of the project point to successes such as the abolition of roaming charges as justification. Cheap phone calls on holiday are of cold comfort to the jobless youth in the South.
Europe has a single currency now – it’s in our pockets. This is the big leagues. It’s insulting to the citizens to serve up low level issues like this and present it as progress.
We need a common treasury and we should look at increasing the amount of money the EU spends on infrastructure.
The structural funds are arguably one of the best examples of well managed public spending you are likely to find. If this was to be scaled up, even modestly, could have a very strong effect economically.
Speaking as an unrepentant Federalist (I knew I’d work the f bomb into this somehow) I’m so tired of PR exercises like what we saw in Rome. We need more.