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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 March 2007, 15:14 GMT
A reporter remembers Rome 1957
BBC Rome correspondent David Willey covered the signing of the Treaty of Rome as a Reuters trainee. Here he looks back at the Europe of half a century ago.

The signing of the treaty took place in the majestic surroundings of Michelangelo's elegant Capitoline Palace situated at the top of one of Rome's seven hills.

David Willey
David Willey: Reuters trainee, and veteran BBC correspondent
I was actually there in the huge room frescoed with scenes from ancient Roman battles, when the six frock-coated founders of the Europe of the Six appended their signatures to the Treaty.

Crowded into the room were members of parliament, city authorities and, I seem to remember, a single red-hatted cardinal from the Vatican.

It was a very formal and quite impressive ceremony, which had been assigned to the Reuters office junior to help him cut his reportorial teeth.

There were speeches in Italian, French, German and Dutch - not a word in English of course, because Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had already decided against joining the nascent European community.

Italian poverty

Reporters didn't have to accredit themselves for such public events in those distant, carefree days long before 9/11.

Signing of Treaty of Rome (Photo: European Commission)
Signed 25 March 1957 at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome
Original name: Treaty establishing the European Economic Community
Key objectives: a common market and customs union; ever closer union among the peoples of Europe; pooling of resources to strengthen peace
Signatories: Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands
Came into force on 1 January 1958

I just walked up the wide travertine marble steps at the top of which, in far off days, the Romans used to worship at a long-vanished temple dedicated to the triple divinities of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno.

The Tiber River God, however, still reclined leaning against his cornucopia, near the entrance to the building, exactly as he does today. I showed my press pass, passed inside, and began to take notes.

I remember being disappointed that my short despatch for Reuters about the beginning of the New Europe failed to make the London papers. Indeed, research by colleagues has failed to unearth any trace of my historic words telexed to Reuters in London.

But this was hardly surprising. The big stories of 1957 were the aftermath of the debacle of the Suez invasion of Egypt, and the worsening situation in Algeria as the insurgency against French colonial rule gained ground.

The Italians were flattered and delighted, however, that Rome had been preferred to any other European capital for the signing of the treaty.

The prestige ceremony was a lifebelt thrown to a poor nation still suffering from damage inflicted by World War II and still dependent upon remittances from its emigrants scattered around the world to help balance its annual budget.

Roman shepherds

The full effects of the "economic miracle", which was to transform Italy from a predominantly agricultural economy into a member of the G8 group of the world's leading industrial nations had just begun to be felt.

Via del Corso
The Via del Corso: No room for sheep today
One of my most vivid memories of 1957 was getting up early one Sunday morning and seeing a shepherd leading his flock of several hundred sheep down the Via del Corso, along the main street that bisects the heart of the ancient city.

There was practically no motor traffic at such an hour. Today there is no room for sheep in the traffic chaos along the heavily polluted Via del Corso, even on a Sunday morning.

And anyway, the centuries-old seasonal transhumance of animals has been replaced by truck transport in post-industrial Italy.

It was another world in Italy. The poor from both the capital and the south still lived in shacks made of corrugated iron constructed under the arches of the ruined Roman aqueducts that still stand in the countryside near the Italian capital.

Illiteracy was a serious problem. Just under half the population could neither read nor write. Local dialects, not the literary Italian I had learned at university, were the preferred means of communication. The great language levelling accomplished by the arrival of TV was still to come.

Papal dismay

After the signing, the heads of state and government, practically all of them devout Catholics who had travelled to Rome for the ceremony, were all received in private audience by the Pope.

This was de rigeur, for the Vatican, then, as now, still plays an important behind the scenes role in Italian politics.

No-one could foresee in 1957 the furore that would erupt 50 years later, and the consternation of Pope Benedict, when the formal written constitution of the New Europe would omit any reference to Europe's Christian roots.

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