Blick von den Treppen, die hinauf zum Kapitolshügel in Rom führen, auf den Senatorenpalast. Links und rechts säumen zwei große Statuen mit Pferden den Weg. Auf der Treppe laufen Menschen.

60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome: What now for the EU?

On March 25 Europe will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the "Treaties of Rome". The agreement is a cornerstone for the European Union as we know it today. On this occasion we have asked experts from the six founding countries to give their view on the EU, its biggest challenges and accomplishments.

On March 25 in 1957 something historical happened on the Capitoline Hill in Rome: High representatives from Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands gathered to sign the so called "Treaties of Rome", establishing the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. With the agreement the signatories laid the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe that resulted in political and economic cooperation among the member states.

The EU is historically unique and has brought peace and prosperity to a formerly war torn continent. But today many questions arise: What will the future bring for the EU?

After the financial and economical crisis, a threatening "Grexit", the vote for "Brexit", the challenges of flight and migration and anti-European sounds from different parts of the EU, approval for the European project seems to be fading.

We have asked experts from the six countries that originally signed the Treaties of Rome about their view on the EU. What has the European Union achieved and what are the biggest challenges ahead? Find our more in our Interviews.

"For the first time in Europe, we are experiencing an 'organized' peace." Anne-Marie Le Gloannec (France)

The French Anne-Marie Le Gloannec is Senior Research Fellow at Sciences Po in Paris

Mrs Le Gloannec, in your opinion, what is the remarkable achievement of European integration?

For the first time in Europe, we are experiencing an "organized" peace. Europe has always found itself somewhere between fragmentation and unity. Fragmentation has not always been a disadvantage. It can, in fact, be an advantage as it allows for competition and diversity.

But after two attempts at suicide – that is, the two world wars of the 20th century – Europe set its sights on establishing peace across the entire continent. And it did this, despite the cold war, the catastrophe in the Balkans and civil war in Northern Ireland. Through this process, Europe succeeded in actually making Europeans out of the people of Europe.

What is the greatest challenge facing the EU today?

Survival! We can no longer rule out the possibility of the demise of the European Union. I think there are two possible scenarios here. The first comes down to the death of the EU. The second scenario is that Europe survives. It survives because European legislation has become national legislation; it survives as a result of interlocking trade and so on. The interpenetration of these various dimensions are what allows Europe to advance. 

The election of Marine Le Pen to the French presidency would be the worst-case scenario for the EU. Her election could precipitate the end of the EU, the end of all projects that France, a pillar of the European project, has facilitated. But this death is not inevitable.

Europe has had to navigate several crises in the postwar era. But now, for the first time ever, it must deal simultaneously with internal and external problems – with a combination of both. We face considerable risks because they penetrate each other at a time when we lack defendable borders. This deluge of crises poses a huge challenge to Europe, which is struggling for its very existence. Russia is infiltrating Europe by various means, which is only one facet of these crises.

Where do you see the EU in ten years?

This is hard to say, in light of my answer to the second question. We live in uncertain times, not only here in Europe but across the globe as well. Passion, in the hands of extremists and populists, are the tool of manipulation. Will they succeed? Marine Le Pen may become president this year; but then again, she may disappear from the political scene within five years. Who knows?

Given this uncertainty, I prefer to think in terms of scenarios. In other words, the worst case is not inevitable. There are encouraging developments: In Romania, a corrupt country, the masses have taken to the streets to demonstrate against corruption. Spaniards are taking in refugees with open arms. The Austrians have elected Alexander Van der Bellen as president. In France, Emmanuel Macron could win. Each of these things point to the presence of strong principles, even in times of crisis.

On the other hand, Europe has not done well in terms of selling itself to the rest of the world and in protecting its borders (admittedly, this is much more difficult than protecting the borders of Canada). The European Union has yet to run an inventory on its strengths and weaknesses. In ten years, we might have more than 27 members, perhaps less than 27. This, too, is open to question and there are several potential scenarios. In short, much of this is unpredictable.

"We need EU politicians with vision and credibility who, instead of glorifying the EU as a panacea, can communicate to citizens that there is no simple or national solution to the problems at hand." Wim van Meurs (The Netherlands)

The Dutch Wim van Meurs is Professor for European History at the Radboud University Nijmegen

Mr van Meurs, in your opinion, what is the remarkable achievement of the European integration?

Seventy years after the end of the war, the achievements made in consolidating European peace and economic cooperation have faded into the background. This is true as well for the Europeanization of key areas such as agricultural, regional or environmental policy and the dismantling of internal borders as well as the integration of South- and East European states. Seen from today's perspective, the most important achievement is that which is barely acknowledged and appreciated by the media and public. European harmonization has provided sustainable solutions to several practical issues – from roaming charges to border controls, from currency exchange to the freedom of movement. This harmonization continues on, even if, for example, the media suggests that the reintroduction of border controls at internal borders as an anti-terrorism measure marks a step backwards for Europe. 

What is the greatest challenge facing the EU today?

Five years ago, we would have pointed to the euro crisis or the EU's democratic deficit. Today, it's the interwoven nature of internal crises and external challenges that threaten Europe's future. Terror attacks and refugee flows in particular are problems directly palpable for many citizens. This leads to unrealistic expectations among European citizens who, at the same time, cultivate the illusion that their own nation state is better positioned to address these problems. Feeling the pressure of euroskeptic parties and their growing constituencies, many governments and coalition parties are affecting a critical stance toward Europe and fail to show the courage to stand up for a European solution.  

Developing solutions to individual problems and risks is not the greatest challenge. We need European politicians with vision and credibility who, instead of glorifying the EU as a panacea, can communicate to citizens that there is no simple or national solution to the problems at hand. The example of the Dutch Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans demonstrates how a politician can convincingly but soberly campaign for Europe during a period in which euroskepticism is running high and nonetheless win the trust of citizens.

Where do you see the EU in ten years?

Historians are known for struggling with predictions. Yet it's indisputable that Europe has reached a crossroads. The vital question here is not a matter of deepening integration versus the dissolution of the European Union. Many of the EU's achievements have become essential, even to its declared opponents, as the UK's Brexit negotiations demonstrate. This is why I don’t subscribe to fears of an "an end to Europe" – too strong is the internal dynamic and cooperation among member states. The question as to whether further individual exits will take place depends heavily on the course of Brexit negotiations between Brussels and London.

More broadly, it is quite possible that the EU will have undergone a fundamental transformation in ten years. This does not necessarily represent a disadvantage for "Europe." In my view, it’s conceivable that differentiated integration will be pursued much more fervently than before. The pressure to perform that derives from the risks and threats posed by terrorism, weak neighboring states and migration or refugee flows could compel European states to work more closely in specific areas beyond the institutional frameworks of the EU. Instead of bearing shared responsibility for a single market, foreign policy, border protection and energy security as a full member of the union, the key point will be whether a stable "coalition of the willing" exists in areas that provide an opt-in for non-EU states and an opt-out for member states. Obviously, this approach is not suitable for every area and the complication of decision-making processes in the EU is a serious risk. Conversely, coalitions which in the long-term are based on shared interests and tasks, can foster strategic clarity and act with resolution. This would create new opportunities for the idea of a "multilayered Europe." EU pillars such as the single market and the four freedoms would continue to underpin Europe, but they would be supplemented by, for example, an Energy Union or Defense Community. It seems clear to me that neither a “same as before” approach nor an unreflective return to the nation-state represent reasonable responses to current and future challenges.

"If Marine Le Pen wins the French presidency, this will bring an end to European unity. The EU can survive without Great Britain, but not without France." Angelo Bolaffi (Italy)

The Italian Angelo Bolaffi is Professor em. for Political Philosophy at the Sapienza University in Rome

Mr Bolaffi, in your opinion, what is the remarkable achievement of European integration?

The remarkable achievement of European integration remains the creation of peace and continued peacekeeping in Europe. After Europe was nearly destroyed by World War II, European integration ushered in an unprecedented era of peace within Europe. As a result, Europe was able to undergo an economic development that involved major social and political achievements for its citizens.  

What is the greatest challenge facing the EU today?

The situation is different today. It's not that peacekeeping in Europe has become any less important. But the major challenges lie in being able to influence globalization and manage migration flows. Both of these developments are generating fears among the public. And these fears make people susceptible to populist movements.

Populism, regardless of what type, offers nothing in the way of solutions. But the related analysis falls upon deaf ears in some parts of the population. Instead, quick and radical solutions are demanded, although there are no quick and easy answers to these issues – no matter what many populist leaders may say. 

Where do you see the EU in ten years?

The situation is serious. The election in France will play a key role in determining Europe's existential future. If Marine Le Pen wins the presidency, this will bring an end to European unity. The EU can survive without Great Britain, but not without France.

"The idea of making traditional adversaries, who have fought countless wars against each other, peaceful partners in a community is unique in human history." Jan Wouters (Belgium)

The Belgian Jan Wouters is Professor for International Law at the Katholic University Leuven

Mr Wouters, what is in your view the most important achievement of European integration?

Peace and prosperity on the European continent for the past 65 years. The idea of making traditional adversaries who have fought countless wars against each other, peaceful partners in a community or union that is based on shared fundamental values (democracy, rule of law, human rights) and provides for open borders and a free flow of people, economic factors and ideas, guaranteed by common institutions that pursue the general European interest, is unique in human history.

What is the biggest challenge for the Union today?

Regain the trust of its citizens in a durable manner. The Union's arcane structures, policies that come across as unjust and non-transparent, the lack of strong and visionary political leadership, and the endless fights between selfish national governments, have profoundly tainted the image of the EU. The Union should not only simplify its institutional set-up: it should be lead by the most competent and talented executives and pursue fair and just policies in a spirit of solidarity between the peoples of Europe and between Europe and the world.

Where do you see the EU in 10 years?

10 years may be too short, but here is my vision: depending on the political courage of European and national leaders, I see the EU evolving towards a more mature political union with stronger instruments to protect its peoples and borders. Internally, this involves a more integrated space which offers its citizens the best opportunities in terms of education, employment and well-being throughout the European continent. Externally, the Union will be called upon to play a stronger global role in a multi-polar world in order to contribute to peace and security, sustainable development and the respect of human rights.

"By invoking the idea of an 'ever closer Union', the European integration process has embarked on a one-way street which, as it turns out, is a dead end." Andreas Rödder (Germany)

The German Andreas Rödder is Professor for Contemporary History at the Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz

Mr Rödder, in your opinion, what is the remarkable achievement of the European integration?

European integration has yielded three historically remarkable achievements. The first is reflected in the manner by which European states and societies interact. Luxembourg, Belgium and Poland are no longer territories subject to military invasion by neighboring great powers, but instead hold presidencies of European institutions. A war between EU member states has become as unthinkable as a war between the United States and Canada, which is not the case for Russia and the Ukraine. The second remarkable achievement lies in the fact that democracy and the rule of law are secured by the EU's requirement that member states uphold their commitment to constitutional democracy. And even if this commitment falters to some extent in some states, democracy and the rule of law would be considerably weaker without European integration. The third achievement is manifest in the contribution that European integration has made to the stabilization of Central and South-Eastern Europe since 1990. Having prevented post-communist states falling victim to the same fate as former Yugoslav states following the breakup of Yugoslavia or the Ukraine in 1990, having averted a repeat of horrors like those witnessed in the region from 1918 to 1945 – this is the real success story of European integration since 1990 – despite all the difficulties of Eastern enlargement.

What is the greatest challenge facing the EU today?

The biggest challenge facing the European Union is the need to overcome complacency and find new solutions to new challenges. By invoking the idea of an "ever closer Union", the European integration process has insulated itself against criticism and embarked on a one-way street which, as it turns out, is a dead end. The European Union must be capable of exercising self-criticism and self-correction if it is to rethink European integration and remain open to new ideas. An EU with the power to act must be flexible. It must be pragmatic, non-dogmatic and open-to-new ideas in determining where more integration is needed and where integration is failing and thus rolled back.

Where do you see the EU in ten years?

The future of the EU has seldom seemed as open as it does today. And as historians are well aware, everything is possible. It’s possible that external threats in the next ten years could trigger a renewed push toward integration, as was the case with the defeat in 1954 of the European Defence Community, in the late 1960s following the "empty chair" crisis or in the early 1980s after the period of eurosclerosis. The fact that nothing, at the moment, speaks in favor of integration, is another historical parallel, by the way. It’s also possible that Brexit has for once and all shattered an old pattern that European integration is finally being driven forward by its own crises. This time it might well be that the EU is eroding, even disintegrating. At first glance this finding looks rather helpless but it contains a message: we need openness instead of short-sighted complacency.

"Physical and material security is continually subject to pressure. This pressure triggers an 'every man for himself' mentality. However, isolation is the wrong response to resolving shared problems." Viviane Reding (Luxembourg)

The Luxembourger Viviane Reding is Member of the EU Parliament, former Vice-President of the European Commission and Member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Board of Trustees

Mrs Reding, in your opinion, what is the remarkable achievement of the European integration?

The greatest achievement is freedom. The removal of interior borders provides Europe the guarantee of free trade among SME's in the single market, the freedom of movement for EU citizens on the continent, and the freedom of choice for Erasmus students in selecting a university. By creating new rights, Europe ensures consumers' digital freedoms through data protection and net neutrality regulations, protects against the discrimination of cross-border commuters, guarantees fundamental rights through the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and provides the foundation for European citizenship.

What is the greatest challenge facing the EU today?

The greatest challenge is security. Physical and material security is continually subject to pressure. This pressure triggers an "every man for himself" mentality. However, isolation is the wrong response to resolving shared problems.  Securing borders for the movement of goods (trade defense instruments) and people (protecting a common external border) are the top priority. Creating a genuine Security Union (shared fight against crime) and Defense Union (merging of military capabilities) are another priority. Europe needs to have the capacity to protect its populations so that everyone feels secure and at home here.

Europe's internal security must be reinforced by exercising its clout in the world. This is needed on the one hand to protect our way of life (culture, agricultural products, social rights, environmental protection) from negative influence and, on the other, to influence standards globally.

In order to achieve this, we need an institutional community that works. If necessary, this kind of governance should be led by a solid core of EU states able to implement reforms and promote political unity. Other states that are not prepared to go along with such basic policies could operate in a second tier. Non-EU states, in a third tier, could be tied to a core Europe through an enhanced neighborhood policy.    

Where do you see the EU in ten years?

The European Union has repeatedly emerged from its crisis in a stronger position. In – at the most – ten years, I hope we will all have come to understand that sovereignty can be preserved not through unilateralism but through collective action.