There were smiles all around at the summit in Rome where the European Union celebrated its 60th birthday, even though there is a lot more about this milestone that should invite serious thought rather than jubilation. We also heard a lot of hopes and promises concerning the final declaration, though these appeared somewhat hastily presented as certainties, as descriptions of an already existing status quo. The declaration was perforce pseudo-prophetic in character as it served the task of giving each of the bloc’s 27 leaders the right to claim that he or she was instrumental in its drafting and that it addresses the concerns of each’s country.
“European unity,” wax the writers of the declaration, “started as the dream of a few, it became the hope of the many. Then Europe became one again.” Such statements clearly ignore the need for self-restraint to stem the self-congratulatory bombast.
How did Europe become one when history, politics and geography point to the Eastern world, and Russia especially, as intrinsic parts of the continent?
After Brexit, moreover, we can’t even claim that Western Europe “became one again.” This is especially so at a time when so many different exits are being predicted and discussed, either as a form of punishment and violent coercion (as in the case of Greece) or because the call for an exit, this bent toward nationalism or isolationist populism, is resonating with all sorts of audiences, from National Front supporters in France to Beppe Grillo’s fans in Italy and all sorts of “purists” in other countries, from the Netherlands to Hungary. This is, after all, a time when actual walls are being actually erected behind symbolic barriers that have never stopped dividing the people of Europe.
Exaggerated, to the say the least, the claim that “Europe became one again” can even be seen as provocative if we consider that the Rome summit effectively rubber-stamped the notion of a “multi-speed Europe” – “We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary” – separating it between the directors (most likely a one-member body) and the followers. As for the phrase “We want the Union to be big on big issues and small on small ones,” it is impossible to know what is considered “small.”
Perhaps the definition got lost in translation, something that is likely if we consider who actually inspired the declaration.