We posted our review of the Declaration on 26 March (see The Rome Declaration) but for balance we give here a summary of the view of EU Observer, reported on 28 March, as they are reliably pro-EU while sharing some of our reservations and offering an intelligent alternative perspective.
“With the ceremonial signing of the Rome Declaration on Saturday (25 March), the so-called Bratislava process designed to rethink the EU after the shocking Brexit vote last year has come to an end.” (see our State of the Union – 4: Bratislava Declaration.)
The report was prepared for EU Observer by Eszter Zalan, who attended the event in Rome. Here is her conclusion:
“The result is a fragile display of unity, with simmering tensions and deep divisions on policies among the member states.”
EU Observer doesn’t challenge the notion of ‘unity’, as we do in our review. They put an alternative spin on the term:
“There was of course a very tangible and pressing political need to show unity after Brexit – that is not to be underestimated. … Therefore, the sheer show of unity is a result not to be downplayed politically. … But there seems to be little more, for now, that leaders could wholeheartedly agree on.”
Their correspondent notes that there was little agreed, except this show of unity. Objections from Greece and Poland, whose leaders did sign the Declaration in the end, “were more for internal consumption, [which] shows that leaders cannot be counted on for not using the EU as punchbag, whenever it suits them politically.”
The report reminds us that, at the “brainstorming session” in Malta in February, the Benelux countries called for “a multi-speed Europe” (by which, as usual, they mean the EU), which was later backed up by “other founding members, Germany, Italy and France.” This scenario was formalised in the European Commission’s white paper (see Our Commentary on the White Paper and More on the White Paper.) The proposal raised issues in Rome for members who disagree with the idea, perhaps because the implications remain unclear or would seem to break up the EU. However,
“By the March summit, it had become clear that even the supporters of a multi-speed Europe do not want a change to the treaties – a process that could last for years and is not guaranteed to succeed.”
Another sign of internal dissention the report describes comes from “talk of an (sic) eurozone budget”, which “makes non-eurozone members nervous about losing influence, losing funds and eventually losing the ability to join the elite currency club.” There is an expectation that all EU countries will be obliged to join the eurozone (see Five Presidents Report) but a budget may make this more difficult.
The author posits that the “UK’s departure represents an opportunity for the euro area members that want to move closer together.”
“The Brexit process can incidentally buy time for European unity. Despite the pledges by EU leaders not to punish the UK for its exit vote, the divorce has to hurt in order to dissuade other EU countries to seek to loosen their relationship, leading to the dismantling of the union.”
The report also concludes that the result of the Dutch election and the likely outcomes of the French and German ones later this year have offered EU leaders some respite from the on-going pressures, from inside and outside the Union. But the nascent optimism “could lead to a weakened appetite for reform and common policies.”
In summary, EU Observer observes many of the same difficulties that we see in the Declaration but offers a more positive interpretation than we do, emphasising the different pro- and anti-EU positions that we have adopted.