March of Europe in Rome: An Awakening of Civil Society

, by Laurin Berresheim

March of Europe in Rome: An Awakening of Civil Society
Demonstrators at March for Europe in Rome

Brexit and the Trump elections have shown that we cannot stay indifferent to growing populism and nationalism. If we fail to act, we will be responsible if something goes wrong. The March of Europe was therefore an important act to make pressure on European leaders to endorse European integration, which is at risk of being highjacked by the people who betray the values of democracy and world openness.

Citizens from all over Europe marched in Rome last Saturday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, the founding text of the European communities. The demonstration gathered pro-European groups such as the Young European Federalists (JEF) or the Union of European Federalists (UEF). People from all ages, but especially a lot of young people, came. They were holding banners, waving flags, chanting and dancing.

Their message was simple and clear: We need a strong and united Europe. Since the foundation of the single market with the Treaties of Rome in 1957, many important steps in European integration have been taken. However, there is still much progress to be done. A national approach will not solve the many problems we are facing today: economic hardship, migration crisis, war and terrorism or environmental challenges - just to name some examples.

The JEF even goes as far as claiming that we need a European Federation. At the march, you could hear them chanting “Federazione Europa: subito!”. What they want is a system of governance in which nation states would largely be overcome and there would be one government for Europe as a whole. A United States of Europe. Not like in a centralised state, where everything is decided from one point, but rather a federal system, as we know it from the United States of America or Germany, where regions are strongly represented and have an important role to play.

Disappointing Signal by European Leaders

On the same day as the march, the head of states and governments of 27 EU Member States (all except for the United Kingdom) met on an informal summit of the European Council and signed the Declaration of Rome. This document reaffirms their commitment to European values and to the integration project that was launched 60 years ago and was supposed to set out the guiding lines for the future.

The outcome of the meeting is however rather sobering - especially when measured against the idealist visions that were proclaimed by the citizens who were marching through the streets of the Italian capital. The head of states and governments mainly made a commitment that no other country would seek to leave the EU. The declaration itself formulates some very general pledges to more cooperation in fields such as security and market policies, while calling for more cohesion. No new concrete solution was however advanced.

Given the many disputes over issues such as migration policy, security and defense or rule of law, these commitments sound void of any content and disappointing in the ears of a citizens hoping for renewal. It is not understandable why some Member States, such as Poland and Greece, had even threatened not to sign the declaration. It is shameful that it is so difficult to even agree on such simple and general things as stated in that declaration.

Civil Society Awakens

The March for Europe, which took place in Rome and other European cities, embodies an awakening in civil society. For a couple of weeks, citizens have taken the streets all over Europe to demonstrate and support Europe in what has become known the Pulse of Europe movement. This is a reaction against the growing eurosceptical mood that has become more and more pervasive over the last years. Besides calling for a more united Europe, the demonstrators have an important message: We will not let populists destroy our community with lies and by spreading fears. Europe has started fighting back.

In the context of growing criticism of the EU, it has been difficult for leaders to endorse Europe. But the ongoing pro-European demonstrations, such as the March of Europe or the Pulse of Europe, hopefully mark the beginning of a movement against the populist, nationalist tide. If citizens continue to go into the streets and make their representatives understand that the latter are not doing enough to preserve Europe, these demonstrations could eventually create enough leverage for politicians to take decisive steps. Brexit and the Trump elections have shown: we cannot be indifferent. We are responsible, if something goes wrong - especially when we have failed to act.

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