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9th Dec 2019

Draft Rome text goes soft on 'multi-speed' EU

  • Upcoming event in Rome to mark 60 years of European integration (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU leaders will discuss on Friday (10 March) how to make the bloc more "secure, prosperous, social and stronger", but will avoid any explicit reference to multi-speed Europe, according to a document seen by EUobserver.

“In the 10 years to come, we want a Union that is a safer and more prosperous place to live," the document says. “We will pursue these objectives, firm in the belief that Europe's future lies in our own hands”.

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The text, prepared by the cabinet of European Council president Donald Tusk with the Maltese presidency of the EU council and the Italian government, is a first draft of the "Rome Agenda", a declaration on the future of the EU that the bloc's leaders will adopt in the Italian capital on 25 March.

Divided into three main parts, it proposes for leaders to remind people of the EU's achievements, presents the "new challenges facing the EU" and gives "possible elements for the section on the Rome Agenda" - outlining a vision for the EU after Brexit.

The UK and its exit from the EU are not mentioned in the draft, as a way to stress that they have closed the book on the UK's membership before negotiations have even started.

In a meeting on Friday morning without British prime minister Theresa May, EU leaders will have to say whether they "agree with the proposed structure" of the future Rome declaration, "agree with the elements suggested under the different sections" and whether there are "any elements which pose difficulties or [whether] there [are] key elements missing".

“We, the representatives of 27 Member States of the European Union take pride in the achievements of the EU”, the draft declaration says.

It says that the EU has to now address "regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities".

EU 'proud of its values'

It says that in the next 10 years, the EU will aim to "enhance the social dimension of the EU, further strengthen the EMU, boost our cooperation on security and defence, [and] make our societies stronger and more resilient towards globalisation".

It insists on developing the single market, increasing investment and implementing structural reforms and completing the economic and monetary union.

On the security side, the draft declaration indicates that the EU must be "ready to take more responsibilities, and committed to strengthening its common security and defence".

It also says that Europe must aim at "protecting a rule-based multilateral system, proud of its values and protective of its people, promoting free and fair trade, defending the rule of law".

“There is nothing among these priorities that cannot be agreed by everyone,” an EU diplomat noted on Wednesday.

After calls for a "multi-speed Europe" from countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain and warnings of disintegration by other countries fearing to be left behind, the draft carefully avoids the controversial expression.

The EU will "work together to promote the common good, on the understanding that some of us can move closer, further and faster in some areas, keeping the door open to those who want to join later," it says, insisting on an "undivided and indivisible Union, which acts together whenever possible, at different paces and intensity whenever necessary".

Preserving integrity

The convoluted language allows supporters of multi-speed Europe to push the idea while staying diplomatic to countries opposing it.

In a nod to these countries, the draft also insists on "preserving the integrity of the single market, the Schengen area, and the EU as a whole".

Some diplomats had warned this week that multi-speed Europe was a "risky concept" that could be "devastating" if it led to breaches in the basics of European integration, such as the single market, or the four freedoms of movement, capital, goods and services.

On Wednesday, a top EU official had said that multi-speed Europe "should not be seen as an objective" but was a "warning to all of us" against the risk of disintegration.

No updated version of the text will be published after the meeting and it could be altered ahead of the Rome summit to take the leaders' remarks into account.

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