EU citizens send strong anti-nationalist message from Rome

By Sarantis Michalopoulos
Date: 25/3/2017
Thousands of EU citizens gathered today (25 March) in Rome to celebrate but also deliver a wake-up call to their leaders to improve policies and address the rise of nationalism across Europe. EURACTIV.COM reports from Rome.

EU citizens travelled from all over Europe to Italy’s capital to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

Concerned about the growing popularity of extreme-right parties, activists gathered in Italy to send a clear message that there should be no way back to nationalism.

Remarkably, many young people from all the corners of Europe attended the march, holding EU, federalist, and even, UK flags.

In favour of Europe, not the EU

Guy Verhofstadt, chairman of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, noted that more than declarations, we need action to move forward.

“Contrary to what people think, the majority of the citizens are in favour of Europe. They are not in favour of the EU of today,” the liberal politician said.

“Criticism has gained ground, there is a reason for this criticism,” said Verhofstadt, who was recently strongly criticised when he attempted to form an alliance with Beppe Grillo’s populist 5 Star Movement.

European People’s Party (EPP) MEP Elmar Brok gave a speech attacking nationalist parties across Europe.

“The Le Pens and Wilders want to tell us that Europe should be destroyed and we should return nationalism. Nationalism has always meant war […] we should say no to any dictatorship again,” Merkel’s ally said, accusing the nationalists of lacking a plan for the future.

“Europe has to be better in competitiveness and social balance,” the German center-right politician noted, adding that US President Donald Trump should avoid trying to hold individual negotiations with the EU member states.

“Mr Trump, Europe will stick together,” Brok said.

Gianni Pittella, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) chief in the European Parliament, stressed that the social model should take center stage in the future of the EU and added that the next President of the European Commission should be directly by the EU citizens.

“Without a Social Europe, the EU project will hit against a wall. We need the United States of Europe!” the Italian politician noted.

Citizens fed up with nationalists

Jessica Chambat, a French pro-EU activist, expressed her concerns over the rise of nationalism.

“The main reason that I am here today is for my children. I would like them to live in a united Europe and I am afraid of the movement that is going on, which aims to put up borders, to divide, to convince us that solidarity has to stop,” she said, adding that coming back to nationalism is a terrifying scenario.

Chambat stressed, though, that the EU had the chance to develop in prosperity but this prosperity created more inequalities among people.

“Solidarity, equality and the social agenda should return to the EU project,” the French activist said.

Vice-President of Young European Federalists (JEF) Ophélie Omnes travelled to Rome from Paris. She told EURACTIV that the pro-EU movement was still alive but “this Europe has to change”.

“The 60 years is something we can be proud of but it’s not enough. These are troubled times and the EU has to make the right choices to move on,” the federalist activist noted, stressing that Brussels should start getting out of the its “bubble”.

In the pro-EU demonstration, a Ukrainian movement was also present. This movement organises activities across Italy and protests every Sunday in favour of EU accession for Ukraine.

“We are here because we feel European. We respect your values and we feel close to you,” 15-year-old Anastasia Tatarin said.

Catherine Guiburg, an activist from southern France, said that she went to Rome to fight nationalism. “We are fed up with all the lies of nationalists against the EU.”

Guiburg noted that in France, politicians from across the spectrum had done a poor job of explaining the EU and had always used it as a “scapegoat”. “They are responsible for the current situation,” she said.

Good words need putting into practice

Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which organised a separate march in Rome, noted that the Rome Declaration offers some hope for the future of the EU.

“Good words on paper need to be put into practice. The test will come soon with the publication in April of proposals for the new European Pillar of Social Rights, in May with new economic policy recommendations, and later in the year at the EU Social Summit in Gothenburg,” Visentini said.

“Workers need to see concrete measures to redress the enormous damage done to living standards, and hope for the future, by the financial crisis and the disastrous years of austerity-for-some which followed,” Visentini added.