It was a rather strained effort in Rome last Saturday to project the European Union as “our common future”. So perhaps it is for the greater glory of the Continent, and a pious signal of intent on the EU’s 60th anniversary was only to be expected. However, behind the facade of the Rome Declaration, so-called, the ground realities have overshadowed the grandstanding at the marbled hallway of the Capitoline Hill, a historical palace that dates back to the Renaissance era. Well might the Declaration symbolise unity, but the concept that was formalised on 25 March 1957 has been under a cloud, and damagingly so, over the economic crisis and now with Britain gearing up to become the first country to leave the bloc. Two hundred years later, the latter-day Concert of Europe carries within it the germs of its own decline. Sad to reflect, the dichotomy is almost institutionalised. While the Declaration pledges a “commitment to a unique union with common institutions”, it has hastened to underline what it calls the “unprecedented challenges, both global and domestic “. For all its pious intentions, the 60th anniversary document has made no effort to obfuscate the crisis that is embedded in regional conflicts, terrorism, increasing migration, social and economic inequalities, not to forget a bizarre blend of protectionism and nationalism. Altogether, the forbidding reality has overshadowed the collective raising of fists as a mark of triumph. It is a happy coincidence, however, that the anniversary also happens to be the 60th birthday of Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. But the leaders who had assembled ~ with the pre-eminent abstention of Theresa May ~ must have been acutely aware that ever since the foundation of the noble endeavour to integrate the Continent was laid, the prospect of failure is today dangerously real. That reality can be contextualised with the caveat advanced by Pope Francis at the Vatican, and significantly enough coinciding with the ceremonial event. He has warned the leaders that their project runs the “risk of dying” as nations and nationalities are “turning inwards”.
And the distressing truth was amplified through the tannoy in parallel with the Declaration as no fewer than 25,000 people, hit by cutbacks and austerity measures, marched through central Rome, where security was said to be doubly tight in the immediate aftermath of last week’s mayhem in London. The general refrain was decidedly economic ~ the single currency called Euro was “unfairly benefiting” northern Europe… with the inequality pronounced in the southern European countries, notably Greece. If Rome was fraught over the weekend, the general ambience underscores the grim reality ~ the European Union is in crisis 60 years after its foundation. And the crisis has been worse confounded by the migrants, with the Continent groping for an agreeable solution.