“50 Years of the Treaty of Rome – The DNA of European integration”
- article by the President of the Republic published in the Expresso weekly newspaper, on March 24, 2007

Are we conscious of how much Europe owes to the Treaty of Rome, signed 50 years ago? Is our memory alive to the lessons of that remarkable path of a Europe reborn from the ruins of World War II?

It is not enough, it will never be enough, to remind ourselves of the bases of European integration and its protagonists. Because losing the memory of the past may mortgage the future.

The visionary genius of Jean Monnet was joined by the determination and talent of a handful of Europeans such as Robert Schuman, Paul Henri Spaak, Joseph Beck, amongst others. We owe them much. They knew that war could come again if a new solidarity were not achieved which would, simultaneously, surmount national egotisms and hegemonic temptations and rally the Europeans round common interests and values. They equally knew that economic and social progress could not be attainable in the future based only upon a national logic, and that it was imperative to gain advantages from the “European scale” and from all the deriving synergies.

Peace and development were, in effect, the primary motivations of the move to build Europe during the second half of the last century.

The failure of the project for the European Defence Community, voted down by the French Parliament in 1954, did not put a stop to European integration as some then feared. Another path was followed. And, thus, on March 25, 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed by the six founder States. No doubts remain that this was an historical marker.

Portugal, who joined more than 20 years ago, has been a stable, keen and equitable partner, has much contributed towards the process of European integration and reaped many benefits from it.

It is in the Treaty of Rome that we find the DNA of European integration. We continue impressed by the vision and strategic scope of this true genetic code which, still today, is the determining basis of the European Union. “Determined to establish the bases of an ever closer union between the European people”: are the first lines of the Treaty.

The rationale of the “common action” to eliminate “the barriers that divide Europe”, aiming for economic and social progress, is emphasized. The principle of equality between States is guaranteed. The value of unity in diversity is preserved. Solidarity is the relevant link to achieve “community method”. The wish is asserted to cooperate with other regions, especially those to the South. Consistent gradualism is adopted as the pragmatic route to deepen integration.

In a declaration filled with significance and value the Treaty of Rome asserts it is the instrument to “consolidate, through the union of its resources, the defence of peace and freedom”.

This was the beginning of a Europe without barriers, without divisions and national effronteries which were the cause of so much cost and so many victims throughout History.

The Economic and Monetary Union of the Treaty of Maastricht has its origins in the Customs Union established in 1957, which already aimed at “reinforcing the union of the (European) economies”. And the great internal market, consecrated in the European Single Act in 1986, was based on the concept of a common market defined in Rome fifty years ago. From Rome, as well, came the competition policy, one of the main foundations of economic integration. Recorded there as well were the objectives regarding employment and adequate social protection.

Widening is also part of the genetic code of European integration. In the Treaty of Rome the six founder States already appealed “to the other peoples of Europe”, who shared the same ideals, to become associated with their efforts. This appeal was not made in vain, and of the six initial States, the European Union now has twenty seven, and more candidates are ready to be considered. This is a further proof of the success of the European construction. Would the imploding of the Soviet regime and the unification of Germany have been possible without the success of European integration? Adhesion to the European Union has been a formidable anchor for peace, stability and progress for all the European Continent.

It is also important not to forget the skilful balance that presided at the definition of the institutional framework. Based on the sovereign will of the member States, the Treaty of Rome defined the European Commission as a supranational institution, with an exclusive right to initiative and the duty to watch over the compliance with its provisions. It is also its duty to interpret and defend the common interest, preserving the equidistance due to national interests. Based on an adequate representation of the States, the Council is the main legislative body. The Court of Justice is responsible for the correct application of agreements and for the well founded resolution of conflicts. And an Assembly was established, the de facto forerunner of the European Parliament which succeeded it.

At a time of challenges and difficult options it is recommendable to review the lessons of Rome.

Firstly, relevance should be given to the persistence, pragmatism and strategic sense of the founders, who were able to build the Treaty of Rome overcoming the then existing climate of crisis.

Many critical occasions happened throughout those fifty years! However, almost always, if not always, the efforts for integration overcame the rifts, the divisions, the deadlocks. I recall, for instance, that the Economic and Monetary Union had several failed attempts until it became consecrated in the Treaty of Maastricht. And the free circulation of people, fallen into deadlock after the European Single Act, was brought forward by the Schengen Agreements.

Secondly, Rome teaches us the critical importance of the value of solidarity in the process of the European construction. Without solidarity, European integration can implode in the face of the pressures which would surely appear in a background of unbalanced sharing of costs and benefits. The objective “ensure harmonious development by reducing inequalities between the various regions and the backwardness of the less favoured” belongs in the Treaty of Rome.

Thirdly, highlight, on the one hand, the skilful balance of powers between the community institutions and, on the other, the eradication of any hegemonic position on the part of any of the large member States. The small and medium States were not minimized, rather a balance was woven which guaranteed the exercise of a shared sovereignty in the areas of European integration.

Fourthly, the importance of knowing how to gain advantage from the “European scale”, not only for the benefit of the citizens, but also to strengthen the role of Europe in the world. And if that was obvious to the founders fifty years ago, it is more than obvious in our time.

European integration did not become crystallized with the Treaty of Rome. It evolved, adapted, deepened. But it was coherent and faithful to its genetic code, which is, to the major principles and guiding lines of the Treaty of Rome. The European Single Act and the Treaty of Maastricht, for instance, did not wipe out the past of European integration.

It is however imperative to adapt the intentions and the common policies to our times and to today’s challenges. As it is also imperative to reform European institutions to strengthen simultaneously their democratic legitimacy and their efficiency. European integration cannot just stop in time and become a contemplative project of yesterday’s successes. But I believe that the deepening of the European integration is condemned to failure if we ignore or pervert the values and principles which were the pillars of the Treaty of Rome.

The challenge of the Constitutional Treaty, which failed in two European referendums, does not require that everything is started anew. European construction has travelled a path with known results. It is a solid construction with good foundations. The reforms of the European Union cannot place in jeopardy a remarkable collection laboriously built in the last five decades. The search for ways to unite the Europeans and rally them to face the new challenges and the new threats, which range from energy and climate change to international security, in a context of irreversible globalization, must be pursued.

European integration continues to be Europe’s best answer to the challenges it faces. And what the people demand from European leaders is that they live up to the founders of the Treaty of Rome.