• So, what exactly was the Treaty of Rome?
  • Rome, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- As the European Union's leaders gathered on Saturday in the Italian capital to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, many citizens probably asked themselves how this foundational pact that changed the course of the continent's history came to be.

    Following the devastation of World War II, several intellectuals who shared a pan-European vision called for the creation of a unitary project that would prevent the outbreak of another war in the conflict-ridden continent.

    Germany, previously a powerhouse, had been reduced to rubble in the wake of its defeat in the war; in 1945, it was completely occupied by Allied forces: the western part was taken over by the United States, the British Empire and France, while the eastern half went to the Soviet Union.

    The US, in a bid to rebuild the ravaged continent and extend its influence to counter Soviet expansion, launched the so-called Marshall Plan (officially known as the European Recovery Program) in 1948 that sent much-needed financial aid _ in the form of loans and exports of goods _ to Western Europe.

    The traditional fault line that historically divided European countries was the control of economic resources, especially in the strategic energy sector.

    Coal was the dominant energy source of the time, with the main deposits located in a narrow strip along the borders of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and a small part of Switzerland.

    Another crucial element for rebuilding Europe's crumbled infrastructure was steel, since the war had destroyed most of the bridges and railway lines.

    Faced with the pressing need to resurrect the continent's crippled economies, the idea of sharing the production of coal and steel _ promoted by French civil servant Jean Monnet _ gained more and more traction, eventually leading to the birth of the European Coal and Steel Community.

    The French foreign minister at the time, Robert Schuman, proposed in a famous declaration on May 9, 1950 to bring together the capabilities of six countries under a common High Authority _ which would be independent and supranational _ to manage their steel and coal resources.

    On Apr. 18, 1951, the ECSC's founding treaty was signed in Paris between France, Germany, Italy and the so-called Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg).

    Thus, the first pillar of the future EU was born, laying the groundwork for a common market that would include much more than just iron, coal and steel.

    At the same time, another attempt at a common European project was being made: the establishment of a European Defense Community _ which intended to form a pan-European defense force as an alternative to West Germany's rearmament and accession to NATO _ was signed in Oct. 1952, but it ultimately faltered and never entered into force.

    The main problem was that France, embroiled in a costly colonial war in Indochina, was going through a military and political crisis and realized that its own defense interests did not align with those of other European countries, so the French Parliament rejected the treaty.

    This led to a radically different strategy: economic integration.

    The idea was to progressively dismantle the trade barriers that national customs represented and allow for the free circulation of specific goods (initially limited to steel, coal and atomic energy) in a single market.

    Former Belgian Prime Minister Paul-Henri Spaak was tasked with chairing a special preparatory council, the Spaak Committee, to prepare a report on the creation of a common European market.

    As a result, the same countries that made up the ECSC drafted two separate treaties that would create a European Economic Community and a European Atomic Energy Community.

    They were signed in Rome on Mar. 25, 1957, a day now widely seen as the true birthday of the EU.

    The Chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer; the prime ministers of Italy (Antonio Segni) and Luxembourg (Joseph Bech) _ as well as diplomatic representatives from Belgium, France and the Netherlands _ all signed their names on the historic documents, and are now considered to be some of the EU's "founding fathers."

    The deal, then formally known as the "Treaty establishing the ECC," proposed the gradual reduction of customs duties and the creation of a customs union that would, in time, become a single market for capital, labor, goods and services regardless of national borders.

    It also called for common policies between member states in the fields of agriculture and transport.

    In order to carry out executive duties, the treaty set up a novel institution that would be responsible for managing the bloc's day-to-day business: the European Commission, a sort of supranational cabinet government which survives to this day.

    In addition, Article 177 called for the creation of a European Court of Justice, which was to have the final say in the adjudication of cases handled by national tribunals, fundamentally transforming European jurisprudence forever.

    In the end, the Treaty of Rome was a history-changing document that nonetheless mostly constituted a series of declarations of future intentions, although its framework set things in place for later developments that have given shape to the present 28-member (soon to be 27) EU.

    In the wake of Brexit, the history of European integration continues to be relevant; the unlikely tale of nations that had warred among each other for centuries uniting in a common effort is still a beacon for those who strive for more international cooperation and less emphasis on separating people by artificial national borders.