Keys to the future? How to read EU's Rome declaration


 Reuters International

FILE PHOTO: A European Union flag flutters near the hand of a statue on Campidoglio square in central Rome, Italy, March 23 2007. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

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By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - "Europe is our common future," European Union leaders will declare in Rome on Saturday, in a grand statement of ambition that they hope can help hold the EU together following the shock loss of major power Britain.

Below are highlights of the draft Rome Declaration, seen by Reuters, to mark the 60th anniversary of the bloc's founding treaty.

At 836 words -- about two pages -- the document is 26 percent longer than a 50th birthday text issued in Berlin a decade ago.

"We, the representatives of 27 member states ... take pride in the achievements of the European Union..."

That "27" in the first line has a poignant significance, the only, indirect, nod to Brexit. The Berlin text made no reference to the number of member states, which now stands at 28. Prime Minister Theresa May will not be in Rome and will trigger Britain's two-year withdrawal process within days of the summit.

"... peace, democratic rights and the rule of law ... "

The preamble offers a positive version of the Union's achievements which leaders think has been drowned out by new nationalisms sweeping the continent. Most Europeans are too young to remember the 20th century wars the founders aimed to consign to history, and many have grown up since the end of the Cold War.

Mention of "rule of law" will remind some of Brussels' fears of authoritarian tendencies in Hungary and Poland

"... unprecedented challenges ..."

At Berlin, challenges were just "major". At Rome, "regional conflicts" are back, in Ukraine, Syria and the Balkans. "Terrorism" is up the agenda, with attacks since 2015 in France, Belgium and Germany. "Migratory pressures" didn't figure in 2007; in the past two years, over a million people have arrived, dividing EU leaders and prompting talk of an existential crisis. "Protectionism" appears as a threat, now Donald Trump is U.S. president -- in Berlin it was Europe's ability to compete in global markets that seemed the problem. "Social and economic inequalities" nods to the ravages of the euro zone debt crisis on Greece and other countries, as well as a persistent gulf between eastern and western Europe.

"... make the EU stronger ... through even greater unity and solidarity ... Taken individually, we would be sidelined by global dynamics. Standing together is our best chance ..."

The message of Rome is "unity", after British voters opened what many fear is a Pandora's box of secession. "Solidarity" is a buzzword amid a simmering row over who should take in refugees and who pays the bills for the Union and the euro.

"... act together whenever possible, at different paces and intensity where necessary, as we have done in the past within the treaty framework and leaving the door open to those who want to join later ..."

Addresses a row over calls for a "multispeed Europe" that the eastern, ex-communist members saw as a way to cut off subsidies and power.

The founding six members and the EU executive think faster integration can deliver the prosperity and security that disillusioned voters want.

"... our Union is undivided and indivisible"

Rings rather hollow in the week Brexit becomes real. Risks a hubristic echo of another "unbreakable union" -- the Soviet one, which survived barely a decade beyond its 60th birthday.

"... a Union which remains open to those European countries that fully share our values ..."

An olive branch to those, notably in the Balkans, who feel the EU is backpedalling on promises of membership.

"... a safe and secure Europe ..."

The first of four broad goals set out. At Berlin, borders were "open"; the Rome draft says that is true within the Union, but stresses "our external borders are secured" to prevent a repeat of chaotic irregular immigration.

"... a prosperous and sustainable Europe ..."

The euro must be "strengthened". The 2007 text said it made Europe strong. A decade of financial crisis has left its mark.

".... a social Europe: a Union which promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence ...."

Among the trickiest areas. Easterners see western insistence on wage and benefit levels as a protectionist bid to keep them from using lower pay to compete and grow in the single market.

"... a stronger Europe on the global scene ..."

Highlights efforts to bolster EU defence cooperation now that the sceptical British are leaving. But takes pains to say this won't undermine the U.S.-backed NATO alliance.

"... listen to the concerns expressed by our citizens ..."

After Britons voted out, and with anti-EU nationalist Marine Le Pen mounting a strong challenge in France's presidential election in April and May, listening is the least they can do.

"... Union to be big on big issues and small on small ones, in line with the principle of subsidiarity ..."

Some inelegant Eurospeak. But "subsidiarity" - taking decisions at the most local level possible - means getting out of the way of democratically elected national governments, which is very much in the spirit of these Brexit-dominated times.

"... We have united for the better. Europe is our common future."

A signoff that repeats two phrases from 2007: the first from the preamble, the second echoing leaders' final words in Berlin.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Reuters

 Reuters International