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EU at crossroads as it celebrates 60th birthday

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The European Commission in Brussels. ┬ęThierry Tronnel/ Getty Images

The European Union celebrates its birthday in Rome Saturday, 60 years after its six original founding members signed the Treaty of Rome, which forged a single European bloc. However, all is not well across the Union as Fabien Jannic-Cherbonnel reports.


27 EU leaders, excluding Britain, will gather in the Italian capital over the weekend, and are expected to issue a statement on the future of the bloc.

The anniversary dawns as the bloc firefights a number of cirsises that threaten its very existance.

Its members are still reeling from the financial meltdown of the 'noughties', have still to  find a solution to the growing migration crisis, while the rise in populist politcs and candidates raises the possibility of further exits similar to the UK's decision to leave following a referendum in Britain last year on membership.

The union has also been criticised for its lack of transparency, for being too complicated and too slow.

EU Achievements

This weekend's Rome summit will also be used by leaders to reflect on what the EU has ahcieved.

"Instead of being a whole lot of warring, conficting countries as in the past centuries, we have achieved this enormous degree of cooperation and common thinking," notes Giles Merritt, the founder of Friends of Europe.

Friends of Europe is a think tank that aims to connect people, stimulates debate and triggers change to create a more inclusive, sustainable and forward-looking Europe

"It is true that the last sixty years have been much easier than the years that are ahead of us. But I don't think we should forget the achievements either."

Observers say we should expect a statement on the future of the union to be issued by the member states and the European institutions.

The first drafts, leaked to the press, made mention of the idea of a multi-speed Europe, but the final declaration has apprently been watered down.

"The main purpose of this declaration will be a re-commitment to the European integration project as such, and the demonstration of unity among the 27 leaders," explains Sophia Russack, a Researcher with the Center for European Policy Studies.

"The document will not reveal deep reflexions, or a concrete roadmap on the future of the EU, but will provide something of a political statement."

There's much talk, however, of the EU becoming multi speed going forward.

It's one of the options favoured by Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and is supported by France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Multi-speed Europe

In a sense, the bloc is already multi speed given that not every member state participates in Schengen, or is part of the euro zone.

"It means that countries that are willing, and able, to cooperate on certain aspects, for example of security, will do so more quickly," says Dina Pardijs, an expert with the European Council on Foreign relations.

"The emphasis is on different speeds, but everyone going in the same direction."

But not every member of the EU is in favour of this notion. Poland has been a vocal opponent.

"We've just done some research on attitudes from the 28 member states on this flexible cooperation," Pardijs said.

"The reason why countries are interested in this, is because it's a way to get over deadlocks."

What remains is to be decided when these changes would be implemented and how. Part of the problem here is that the EU is known to move extremely slowy.

"I think we need to speed up, and clarify European decision making," says Giles Merritt

"I think we've used it as an excuse for too long for being slow and inadequate. My feeling is that the challenges closing in on Europe are so serious that we can't continue as before."

Things might change next year, but not before the French and German elections.

Right now, thouvgh, in Rome, the mood is cautiously optimistic, which sounds exactly like what something the European institutions could say.