MADRID – At the end of this month, European Union leaders (except for British Prime Minister Theresa May) will gather in Italy to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Anniversary celebrations are always a good excuse for self-congratulation, and the rhetoric filling the air in the run-up to the Rome summit suggests that this one will be no different. But EU leaders should also be using the anniversary as an opportunity to reflect deeply on the project they are celebrating.
The EU is at a crossroads. The United Kingdom has not even formally launched the withdrawal process, yet Brexit has already demolished one of the European project’s founding assumptions: that, however slowly, integration would always move forward. Now, rising nationalist populism is threatening to unravel six decades of progress.
A celebration of European unity may be the ideal moment to confront the difficult truth of disunity, and chart a way forward. But the honesty, self-awareness, and clear vision needed to use the Rome summit in this way does not come naturally to EU leaders, who excel far more at lofty rhetoric than pragmatic solutions.
To be sure, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has taken a stab at fostering such a solution. The Commission’s recent “White Paper on the Future of Europe” that sets out five possible paths forward for Europe, from narrowing the EU’s focus to the single market to deepening and broadening integration. It also includes the seemingly inescapable proposal of building a multi-speed Europe.