Written by Suzana Anghel and Ralf Drachenberg with Desmond Dinan,
Analysis shows that in the year since the Rome Declaration, and a year before the special summit on the Future of Europe debate, due to take place in the Romanian city of Sibiu on 9 May 2019, substantive progress has been made regarding the debate itself and implementation of the policy priorities identified in the Bratislava Declaration/Roadmap and the Rome Declaration. It is too early to offer more than a tentative assessment of the follow-up to Rome, as several initiatives have still to bear fruit. Nevertheless, the evidence so far suggests that the European Council, as well as the other EU institutions, have followed up on the pledges made in Rome, in an effort to boost the legitimacy of the EU, connect with disaffected citizens, and combat Euroscepticism.
Over the last 12 months, EU citizens’ support for the EU has increased. This, together with the election of Emmanuel Macron, an avowed pro-European, as President of France in May 2017, and the economic upswing, has generated momentum for deepening European integration and launching new initiatives to reform the EU. The momentum picked up pace with Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address and Emmanuel Macron’s Sorbonne speech, both of which took place in September 2017. They were followed by the initiative of Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, in launching a ‘Leaders’ Agenda’, which has not only made a critical contribution to the Future of Europe debate but also constitutes a potentially far-reaching institutional innovation for the European Council. As part of the Leaders’ Agenda, the leaders are applying a new working method to European Council discussions aimed at resolving seemingly intractable policy disputes. Not only has this helped to operationalise the Rome Declaration, it has also consolidated the European Council’s position at the centre of EU policy-making and agenda-setting in the European Union. In general, the European Council has continued to follow the approach taken in the Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap, namely to have separate discussions on the Future of Europe and on the EU’s policy priorities, often in the framework of Leaders’ Meetings.
In the year since Rome, the Future of Europe debate has passed through three phases (anticipation, new ideas, and seizing the opportunity) with numerous contributions by EU institutions and Member States, either individually or collectively. Institutional affairs and the Future of Europe have mainly been discussed at informal meetings, before becoming main items on the agenda of formal meetings. At the same time, the Heads of State or Government have constantly kept the policy priorities at the forefront of their agenda. Work on the Rome Agenda policy clusters advanced at both informal Leaders’ Meetings and scheduled European Council meetings, leading in certain cases to tangible progress.
The EU leaders’ main objective in their various discussions has been to maintain EU unity, which has clearly been the leitmotif running through the European Council’s statements since 23 June 2016. Despite many challenges in the 12 months following the Rome Declaration, EU unity has been a constant guiding principle of the Leaders’ Agenda. While the time period since Rome has seen a strengthening of the European Council President’s role, not least as a result of the Leaders’ Agenda, the Commission’s influence on the Future of Europe debate has varied. At the same time, the European Parliament has contributed by maintaining a rolling debate on the Future of Europe with Heads of State or Government.
Over the coming months, the European Council will have ample opportunity to advance the Future of Europe debate and deliver on the Rome Agenda, advancing steadily along the road to Sibiu, where leaders will gather less than two weeks before the 2019 European Parliament elections for a summit that could be decisive for the EU’s immediate and future development.
Read this Study on ‘From Rome to Sibiu‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.