European disunion: how Rome declaration changed

Danny KEMP
The flag of the European Union waves in Rome, where leaders of the bloc will celebrate its 60th birthday on March 25, 2017

European Union leaders celebrating the bloc's 60th birthday in Rome will issue a declaration designed to show their unity, but in many ways it just shows how divided they are.

Poland and Greece have in recent days both threatened to torpedo the statement, which has undergone a number of crucial changes as diplomats worked frantically on it.

Here are the key points, according to a final draft seen by AFP, and how they have evolved:

- SOCIAL EUROPE -

The declaration starts with the 27 leaders -- without Britain -- and the heads of the EU's institutions declaring their "pride in the achievements" of the "unique" union in rebuilding the continent after two world wars.

It hails the "peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law" in Europe over the past 60 years.

But bailed-out Greece, leading the charge against the austerity policies of northern Europe, threatened to hold up the declaration if there was not also a mention of the protection of European social rights.

Compared with the original draft on March 16, the final draft adds, at Greece's request, a mention of the fact that the EU is not just a "a major economic power" but one with "unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare."

- CHANGING WORLD -

The Rome declaration says the EU is facing "unprecedented challenges", listing "regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities".

Britain's shock vote to leave does not get a mention.

Compared with the first draft, the final version adds the crucial word "Together" at the start of a paragraph about being "determined to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world".

- MULTI-SPEED -

This is one of the most difficult issues. The EU is deeply split over plans for a "multi-speed" union in which some countries can push ahead with integration, for example on the euro or defence. Poland in particular opposes it, fearing France and Germany will try to bully the rest.

The leaders will say that "unity is both a necessity and our free choice".

The final declaration then goes on to say that "We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past."

The phrase "while moving in the same direction" has been added from the first draft to make it clear that countries that don't opt in will not be left out. The final draft also omits the words "wherever possible" when it comes to acting together.

The statement says they will leave the "door open to those who want to join later."

- MIGRATION -

With Europe's biggest ever wave of refugees and migrants helping to boost populist parties, the word "humanely" has been cut from the final statement when it talks about an "efficient, responsible and sustainable migration policy".

- GROWTH -

The northern countries get their own back: a section on "A Social Europe" calling for the promotion of economic and social progress adds the key caveat "based on sustainable growth" -- that is, what debt-strapped southern Europe can afford.

- GENDER EQUALITY -

Diplomats said several countries demanded the dropping of the words "gender equality" from the Rome statement.

Instead the final declaration talks of "a union which promotes equality between women and men."

Similarly, the text says the EU "preserves our cultural heritage and promotes cultural diversity" -- in the original version diversity came before heritage.

- EUROPE IS OUR FUTURE -

One part that stayed unchanged throughout was the end -- "We have united for the better. Europe is our common future."

This is partly because it directly echoes the coda of the 2007 Berlin declaration marking the EU's 50th anniversary.