Forty years on, is the European train still running on track?

Flags and flowers set party wheels in motion as Rome celebrates the birth of a Union, writes Sarah Helm

Flowerbeds in the Piazza Venezia have been laid with the colours of Europe and the Piazza Campidoglio has been decked with European flags.

The Municipal Police Force in Rome has been practising its "tunes for Europe" and a March for Europe has been prepared by the association of amici dell'Europa - friends of Europe. Even the Pope, it seems, is joining in the the fun. A short film entitled Giovanni Paolo II in Europa is to be shown in the Opera.

Rome is today celebrating a 40th birthday - the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome - and the Italians are determined to stage the event in style. After all, Italy was one of the exclusive club of six which was here at the birth of the Common Market - or, as it is now, the European Union.

Particularly among those founding six - Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg - nostalgia will no doubt hang heavy in the air as they look back to their early ideals and objectives. It was all about achieving peace, they will recall. The words of Jean Monnet, principal architect of the Treaty of Rome, who called for "the victors and vanquished of two world wars to exercise joint sovereignty over their joint resources" will no doubt be recalled. Self-congratulation is bound to ring out over the popping balloons. "Forty years of peace," Jacques Santer, the European Commission president was heard to proclaim yesterday before the celebrations had even begun. "Forty more years", they will all chant today.

And, of course, there will be the usual party jokes. "Remember how you Brits said the treaty stood no chance," the six will tease, referring to the scorn which the British poured upon the draft Rome treaty in 1955. "Monsieur le President, messieurs, au revoir et bonne chance," scoffed pipe-smoking Russell Bretherton, Britain's envoy to those treaty negotiations, before walking out and banging Britain's door against Europe for another 18 years.

Yet, like any 40th birthday, this one will be characterised not just by nostalgia and jollity, but also by soul-searching and self-doubt. Today's 15 member states are about to set out on another round of integration by signing the Treaty of Amsterdam, in June, and embarking on Economic and Monetary Union on 1 January 1999. The next round of enlargement, bringing in countries from east and central Europe, is also about to begin.

These events bring big change and big questions for Europe. And, as anyone who has had a 40th birthday knows, the biggest question of all is - what is it all for?

Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic - an aspiring member - asked this question in particularly poignant terms during a recent address to the European Parliament. "I find," he said, "that as Europe goes ahead with its unification it has to rediscover, consciously embrace and in some way articulate its soul or its spirit, its underlying idea, its purpose and its inner ethos ... and, finally, ascertain what its mission is."

Many of Europe's leaders would today still answer that that mission is peace. But even among the founding six the old rhetoric rings hollow with ordinary people. Younger generations, who have forgotten the war, are no longer prepared to blindly follow the early ideals of Europe's founding fathers, and are asking tough questions about what economic benefits Europe will bring and what their stake is in its future.

Newer members largely joined for economic reasons. The reluctant Danes, for example, were told that the European Union was about being able to sell butter and bacon. But, today, doubts about the economic aims of Europe are as deep as they ever have been. Rising unemployment and spending cuts are being blamed on efforts by member states to meet the criteria for economic and monetary union.

Since the end of the Cold War, enlargement has increasingly been offered as the new "mission" for the union. Bringing in the former Soviet bloc countries will give integration a form of moral underpinning, leaders hope.

The new draft treaty for Amsterdam proposes another possible new "mission". The EU should aim to create an area of "freedom, justice and security" says the document, in an effort to combat international crime, terrorism and drug trafficking.

All these new missions for Europe will no doubt be set out during the 40th anniversary. But the union appears to have little idea of how to communicate them to its "citizens".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test