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Europe

EU to renew 'a common future' despite union's cracks

© LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP | Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) greets Germany's Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel at his office in Athens, on March 22, 2017

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-03-25

Against the tense backdrop of an impending Brexit, the EU hopes to reaffirm ‘a common future’ for Europe when its leaders gather in Rome Saturday, 60 years after the Treaty of Rome forged a historic single European bloc.

But the mood is likely to be less than celebratory. Not since the Treaty of Rome was signed on March 23, 1967 has the future of the European Union come under such intense scrutiny and speculation.

The ever deepening fissures plaguing the union, of which Brexit is the most imminently threatening, are likely to overshadow discussions during the meeting, with uncertainty over whether all signatories will sign on to the declaration, now known as the Lisbon Treaty.

Is Greek humbling killing European dream?

Greece has already flagged the possibility they may withhold immediately signing the treaty, even though Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had said he intended to support it.

In a letter to EU leaders sighted by the AFP, Tsipras on Friday appealed to leaders, who are among his country’s creditors, to uphold the union’s common charter to protect labour and social rights in Greece.

"An array of achievements under our common European acquis have been (curtailed), chief of them the acquis of social rights, specifically...labour rights and collective bargaining," Tsipras said in the letter, which was also sent to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU President Donald Tusk.

"In my country, these rights [labour and social] are restricted."

Breach of European rights

Tsipras pointed to the continued imposition of punitive conditions on Greece that he said not only diminished workers’ rights but breached European best practices.

"I ask for your support in order to protect, together, the right of Greece to return to the standards of the European social model," the PM wrote.

His appeal to creditors follows demands for a latest round of cuts that target pensioners – the 12th cut to pensions since Greece signed up for its first bailout in 2010 – along with calls for reforms to the state-run energy sector and labour market.

To be eligible for a third round of bailout funds worth €86 billion, Greece must convince the IMF it will stick to another round of harsh reforms. Greece is due to deliver its next big debt repayment in July but disagreements between its government, the EU and the IMF have stalled a critical review of bailout conditions - this, as Tsipras maintains Greece has already fulfilled its bailout terms.

European Union facing 'unprecedented challenges'

Although it has received successive bailout packages that have kept its economy from crashing out of the Eurozone, Greece still remains crippled by austerity with many citizens teetering above, if not below, the poverty line.

For many Greeks, the halcyon days of the EU with its promise of higher living standards must now seem like a distant dream.

A two-speed Europe

Drafted in the spirit of an “ever closer union”, the Treaty of Rome - a precursor to the European Union - was initially signed by just six nations united within a common economic market and under a single currency. That grew to include 27 member states under the Lisbon Treaty in December 2007.The newly formed union worked to confer a consensual social and economic model of benefit to all its European citizens.

While in the past, members have tried to work out differences, over issues like unrestricted travel in the Schengen zone and the single euro currency, now when consensus is lacking, even the staunchest Europhiles recognise things have to change.

Saturday’s meeting of EU leaders will hammer out a declaration for a new way forward with many Europhiles hoping it will go some way towards dampening the rising tide of Euroscepticism.

Some have called for ‘a two-speed Europe’ solution, or a Europe of concentric circles, that would allow nations to move ahead at their own pace.

Last month, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Belgian parliament that "I no longer want member states to block others that want to go further."

Critics, however, say it will only solidify the dividing economic lines between northern and southern Europe. With that in mind, Juncker’s declaration could hint at tougher times for Athens and a test of its relations with Brussels. 

Delays in the latest round of bail out negotiations are starting to hurt the Greek premier with the latest opinion polls showing Tsipras’s popularity waning. And if he fails to have the grievances of his constituents heard in Rome it may well further erode his bargaining powers in upcoming negotiations.

The treaty is more than just symbolic; it reflects the strength of the union that binds European states. The importance of this weekend’s talks, therefore, shouldn't be underestimated as they will likely trigger some kind of a shift in the union's direction - whether toward a more Europhile program or one that plays into the Eurosceptics' vision of a future Europe.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)

Date created : 2017-03-25

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