An EU with different speeds

7 March 2017
French President François Hollande with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Prime Ministers of Spain and Italy, Mariano Rajoy and Paolo Gentiloni

"When we undertake to do something, we must deliver"

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the responsibility of EU member states to chart the future of Europe, an "instrument for peace". This includes having the courage to permit "different speeds" within Europe.

Speaking on 6 March in Versailles, Merkel said that Europe remained an "instrument for peace". But, if Europe were to become bogged down rather than developing further, even this instrument for peace "could be jeopardised more rapidly than we might think". That is why the EU member states had an obligation to chart the future of the European Union, Angela Merkel continued. All leaders attending the meeting in Versailles agreed on this point. 

The French President François Hollande invited Angela Merkel, and the Prime Ministers of Spain and Italy, Mariano Rajoy and Paolo Gentiloni, to the meeting to prepare for the anniversary summit to be held on 25 March in Rome. On 25 March 1957 the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the "Treaties of Rome" founding what became the European Union. On Friday an informal meeting of the 27 heads of state and government of the EU will be held to make preparations for the anniversary summit. 

The Treaties of Rome are the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). It was the European Coal and Steel Community, founded in 1951, that laid the foundations for the European integration project. 

"When we undertake to do something, we must deliver" 

Merkel explained that while it is right to point to the achievements of the EU, it is also important the discuss the problems. Europe was currently going through a difficult and nervous phase, she pointed out. And that made it important to ensure that Rome was a source of vigour and optimism, and of new energy, and the commitment "that when we undertake to do something, we also deliver". The Chancellor also mentioned in more detail the current challenges facing Europe. There were external challenges, including globalisation, economic dynamics, climate change mitigation, the fight against terrorism and the pressure of migration. These are compounded with challenges inside the Union, including dissatisfaction, unemployment, concerns about the status of the EU in the world, and the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. 

Europe’s fate linked to the future of Africa 

According to Angela Merkel, it was absolutely crucial to ensure that the EU is safe and secure. The external border must be protected and more cooperation is needed on defence. Economic prosperity and social security were also important. The advantages of a common market, common research and a common currency must be nourished and allowed to develop. With a view to Europe’s fate in general, Merkel said that it was inextricably linked to the future of Africa in particular. 

Some countries should lead the way 

To further develop Europe, the Chancellor said that "some countries must go ahead and lead the way", so that different speeds must be possible within Europe. Otherwise, Europe would become "bogged down". But, she added, Europe must always remain open, and not all members must be forced to be part of a given project. 

The Chancellor also urged that more attention be paid inside Europe to the diversity of the different regions and the traditions of individual countries. 

Working together to drive the EU forward 

In the wake of the UK’s referendum, in which it voted to leave the EU, the leaders of the remaining 27 member states launched a process of reflection on the further development of the EU. At an informal meeting in September 2016 in Bratislava they agreed to stipulate the direction for the shared future of the EU at the end of March in Rome.  

In Rome the German government expects a declaration to be issued by the 27 remaining EU member states. It is to lay out a common perspective for the years ahead, on the basis of shared values and changing global challenges. 

At the special EU summit held in Valletta in February 2017, the Chancellor declared, "Like the Berlin declaration issued on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, we will once again point to the shared values that are our foundation, and on this basis look at what has been achieved." 

Now it was important to focus on how the European Union is to develop, "how we want to present how we see our role in the world, i.e. what contribution we intend to make to globalisation, which alliances we want to be part of, and how we see multilateral cooperation". 

The format of the four leaders’ meeting is not new. In June 2016 the Chancellor met in Berlin with her French and Italian counterparts, and then again in August 2016 on the Italian island of Ventotene. These meetings too looked at the future development of the EU. Only three leaders attended these meetings because the Spanish Prime Minister was only acting prime minister at that stage as the country had not yet formed a new government following elections.

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In Focus: Treaties of Rome 60th anniversary and the European Union

Europe Day celebrations in Berlin

On 25 March 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaties of Rome which created the European Economic Community and laid the foundations for the Europe we know today. On the 60th anniversary, our latest 'In Focus' looks at the Rome Treaties' significance and the European Union today.