Europe’s Day in Rome

Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome as journalists gather to wait for EU leaders to arrive to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome as journalists gather to wait for EU leaders to arrive to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Dear Blog Readers—

Yesterday was an historic day for Europe, although it seems to have gone by without much of a blip on the worldwide news radar. I won’t write much about it, but I wanted to share a few behind-the-scenes notes and photos.

The leaders of the 27 nations of the European Union gathered in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the groundwork for the European Union. Back in 1957 only six countries signed the agreement – Italy, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland – creating the European common market and allowing for goods, services and people to move across borders in Europe. After two devastating world wars, the European Union brought both peace and prosperity to the continent as it slowly expanded to a total of 28 member states with the addition of Croatia in 2013.   In the year 1999 the EU launched its common currency, the Euro, which is now used in 19 nations.   There are now 510 million citizens of the European Union.

And that is the good news….

The bad news is that the European Union is facing one of its worst moments. A key member, Britain, has decided to leave the Union. Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to “trigger” the Brexit next Wednesday, formally launching the separation process. The continent has been flagging economically for years with low growth, high unemployment and massive debt – some countries much worse that others (Italy and Greece, for example). The European Union has been riddled with terror attacks in recent years from Paris, to Berlin and last week in London. The leaders of the continent have struggled to come to up with a unified policy to handle the massive influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. A tide of populism has given unprecedented power to right-wing, anti-Europe, anti-migrant parties in many European nations. Finally, Europe is being squeezed by an aggressive Vladimir Putin in the East and an unsupportive Donald Trump in the West. So it is not the easiest of moments for Europe.

The 27 leaders came to Rome yesterday to gather in the same place, the elaborate Horatii and Curiatii Hall, a frescoed room in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill in Rome and sign a new “Rome Declaration” stating their commitment to the European dream.

I was part of the Associated Press team covering that event while we had many more staffers covering four demonstrations in Rome both for and against Europe. Police had anticipated that 25,000 people would be taking part in the protests and had predicted they would become violent. Fortunately, the numbers were far less and they did not become violent. Nevertheless, the city was in virtual lockdown with the center closed down entirely.

Temple of Portunus near the Bocca Della Verita' at dawn as journalists gathered to go through security checks to go up to the Capitoline Hill. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Temple of Portunus near the Bocca Della Verita’ at dawn as journalists gathered to go through security checks to go up to the Capitoline Hill. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Journalists, photographers, camerapersons covering the event had to be at the Bocca della Verita’ at dawn. Although I was not thrilled about getting up in the dark to get in line for three different security checks, it turned out to be one of the best parts of the day. Being able to see the Roman ruins at sunrise with the city completely empty was a real treat.

From the Bocca della Verita’ we dragged our equipment up the back of the Capitoline Hill looking back at the Roman Forum and down to the Coliseum at sunrise. It was spectacular.

The Roman Forum at dawn as we walked up the Capitoline Hill. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The Roman Forum at dawn as we walked up the Capitoline Hill. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Once we passed all the security checks and got our badges, we were taken down into the Piazza del Campidoglio. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy, and Italy has a lot of lovely piazzas. The Piazza del Campidoglio was designed by Michelangelo and constructed between 1546 and 1564.   In the middle stands the famous Roman statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on his horse (actually a copy, the original is now inside the Capitoline Museums). There are three buildings around the piazza, the Palazzo Senatorio, where Rome’s city hall offices are located, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo (both now part of the Capitoline Museums).

The ceremony was taking place in the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the leaders trotted down a red carpet in the piazza to greet Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, EU Council President Donald Tusk and the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, holding the rotating EU Presidency.

A K-9 team walks past the statue representing the Tiber River in the Piazza del Campidoglio prior to the arrival of the EU heads of state for the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

A K-9 team walks past the statue representing the Tiber River in the Piazza del Campidoglio prior to the arrival of the EU heads of state for the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by Trisha Thomas

There were lots of journalists from Brussels there and those of us from Rome were surprised that they have a habit of yelling questions at the EU leaders in what is technically a photo-opportunity.   It also took the Italian protocol people by surprise. They tried to hush up a very vocal Austrian journalist telling her to “Sta Zitta!!” which only encouraged her. Many of the leaders actually left the red carpet and came over to speak to the journalists standing behind the retractable ribbon barriers. It took me a second to get up to speed and grab our boom microphone so we could get some comments from the leaders as well. I was pleased though to get a Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the EU Commission who told me, “I do think that the Brexit, the exit of Britain, is a tragedy.” That mini soundbite was at the top of the AP story all day and I had BBC and SKY UK asking me for it.”

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker describes Britain leaving the EU as a "Tragedy." Freeze frame of video shot by Fanuel Morelli for AP Television. March 25, 2017

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker describes Britain leaving the EU as a “Tragedy.” Freeze frame of video shot by Fanuel Morelli for AP Television. March 25, 2017

I found more interesting though the comments of the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, who was so positive about the future of the EU when she came over to speak to us.

Here is what she had to say,” “The past 60 years were difficult, we have challenges, but I can say that Europe always faced challenges but it is everlasting and will be everlasting. Yes there are countries coming in and coming out and there will probably continue to be, but this union is based on goodwill. Nobody forces anybody in, and everybody is free to choose. I think we will be better together because we can be faster and more efficient together but we will see.  Life is giving new challenges but we will find new tools.”

EU leaders gathered in the Horatii and Curiatii Hall to sign the Rome Declaration on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino

EU leaders gathered in the Horatii and Curiatii Hall to sign the Rome Declaration on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino

Inside the leaders sat in the Horatii and Curiatii Hall surrounded by frescoes depicting the history of ancient Rome with two solemn statues of former Popes looking down on them. After some speeches the leaders each signed the “Rome Declaration”

The declaration lists some of the main problems facing Europe: “regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities.” It then lays out some strategies for solving the problems but specifies a new multi-speed approach noting, “We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction…”

The document states, “Unity is both a necessity and our free choice. Taken individually, we would be sidelined by global dynamics. Standing together is our best chance to include them and to defend our common interests and values.

And the last line of the document…

“We have united for the better. Europe is our common future.”

Signatures of EU leaders on The Rome Declaraiton. March 25, 2017 - Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino

Signatures of EU leaders on The Rome Declaraiton. March 25, 2017 – Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino

After signing the document the leaders poured out of the doors of the Palazzo dei Conservatori and many stopped to chat with journalists outside giving their spin on the day. A crowd huddled around Angela Merkel who declared, “The Europe of different speeds does not in any way mean that it is not a common Europe. We are saying here very clearly that we want to go in a common direction.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks back during the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks back during the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. March 25, 2017. Photo by AP Photographer Alessandra Tarantino

I will let Angela Merkel have the last word.

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Putting my selfie stick to work:

Putting my selfie-stick to good use in the Piazza del Campidoglio with colleagues Gloria Bellu and Francesco Sportelli. March 25, 2017

Putting my selfie-stick to good use in the Piazza del Campidoglio with colleagues Gloria Bellu and Francesco Sportelli. March 25, 2017

A gigantic thank you to my AP photographer colleague Alessandra Tarantino for giving me some of her extra photos not used by the AP for my blog.  Grazie Alessandra!!!!!

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

10 Comments

  1. Alan
    2017/03/27

    ‘Europe is being squeezed by an aggressive Vladimir Putin . .’ would love for somebody – anybody to explain to me how it is Russia that is being aggressive. The EU in its evolved form is a disaster from pretty much any angle that it is viewed from. There is so much to discuss and here is not the forum. That said, I do hope that what the ‘Tiber’ statue is holding is a cornucopia!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/03/29

      Ok Alan, we will let the debate about Russia and Europe go. But OMG the CORNUCOPIA!!! I didn’t even notice!!! Wow!

      Reply
  2. Kathleen Botsford
    2017/03/27

    Maybe it’s the ancient setting reminiscent of past empires, maybe it’s the accumulative intelligence of real world leaders, but this post has somehow made me feel better. And no. It did not make the regular news casts here. The Donald is having a hard time and his tantrums take precedence.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/03/29

      Well, I must say Kathleen, covering this event made me feel a little bit better about Europe and the future. I think it was the comments of the Lithuanian President that did it for me. These 27 leaders of Europe are mostly unknown but being part of a bigger Union is fundamental for their future. We tend to think of Europe as just being Italy, France, Britain, Spain and Germany — but there is so much more to it. And as far as Trump and his tantrums go — glad I was able to skip focusing on those for a day. Interestingly though, this event happened in Rome and I thought it would get huge attention in Italy — but the Pope stole the show. He spent the day visiting Milan visiting the Duomo, visiting some housing projects on the outskirts of Town, visiting the San Vittore Prison and holding a mass in Monza, and a meeting with young people in San Siro Stadium. Millions of people showed up for the events and went nuts over him. It was really incredible.

      Reply
  3. Joan Schmelzle
    2017/03/28

    Hi Trisha,
    Actually I knew about the Rome meeting because I still haven’t “divorced” myself from reading headlines and some stories in NY Times and Washington Post for about two hours a day. Soon I will escape I hope. I found this entry really interesting, and was glad to read some of the comments. This certainly added to what I had read so thank you for that.
    Also enjoyed the early morning pictures of places I know. I have an idea of the back way up to the Capitoline Hill, but not too sure.
    I really liked the pictures and descriptions of the square and of the Palazzo dei Conservatori. All things being equal and barring any disaster to my health, I will be seeing them again in January. I have saved some money and have a good income tax return so I can’t think of any place I would rather spend some of it than in my favorite city.
    A presto,
    Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/03/29

      Oh Joan, you must come back and visit all these places again. You should do the walk up the back side of the Campigdoglio and look down at the Roman Forum. It really is marvellous. Also, the Piazza is so gorgeous. On top of that, I love the Capitoline Museums….they are chock ablock with Roman statues, the original Marcus Aurelius statue (restored) and lots of fabulous paintings.

      Reply
  4. Wendy Pierrepont White
    2017/03/28

    Well written and interesting as always, Trish. Thanks, Wendy

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/03/29

      Thank you Wendy!!

      Reply
  5. Annie
    2017/03/28

    WOW! THank you so much Tricia for this succinct educational look at the EU, and, as always, an on the scene, in plain English lesson on the history and current status of the EU. The only reason I’m fairly up the speed on the EU is via my Bff, whose husband has long been directly involved in the EU. But there is always more to learn, so I really appreciate you sharing so succinctly and perfectly basically a history of the EU, that anyone can understand and learn from.
    As always you share with us some first hand personal moments that make it all so much more ‘juicy’ to read.
    Love the photos, they All tell a story….the photo of Angela should win prizes. Thanks for the tour of Rome too. Gorgeous. And so neat to see you and your colleagues!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/03/29

      Thank you Annie — you are too kind to me! I am so pleased you like the post. Your enthusiasm inspires me to do more posts. I will tell my AP photo colleague, Alessandra Tarantino, that you liked her photo of Angela Merkel — AP did not want that one.

      Reply

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