Will multi-speed be Europe’s future?

Sixty years after the Treaty of Rome, which gave way to European integration, was signed establishing the goal of a “closer Europe”, our Union is in trouble: one member voted to leave, the Eurozone is crawling from one crisis to the next and the immigration policies are a mess.
To face the situation after Brexit a change is necessary! The leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain met in the Palace of Versailles – a symbolic place to hold a meeting, the palace where the peace of Europe was mapped out after World War One – backing the idea of a multi-speed EU.  What does it mean?

The main idea behind this project is to allow a restricted number of member states to proceed towards a tighter and closer integration but not in matters of exclusive competences where the Union alone is able to legislate and adopting binding acts. “We need to have the courage for some countries to go ahead if not everyone wants to participate”. As we understand from the words of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the plan gives the possibility to the counties who wish so, to deeper co-operate in areas of interest such as social policies, justice, single market, international politics and common defense. The basis for this project was already settled in 2009 with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Other than strengthening the powers of the Parliament, the treaty provides two new tools aimed to help the EU and its institutions adapting to the enlargement of the community. The first is a procedure called Enhanced Cooperation, which allows a minimum of nine European states to establish an advanced integration in an area within EU structures but without other EU countries being involved. This tool permits them to move at different speeds and towards different goals than those outside the enhanced cooperation areas. This procedure is also designed to overcome a situation where a proposal is blocked by an individual country or a small group that does not wish to be part of the initiative. The second instrument is a Permanent Structured Cooperation that widely differs from the previous one: there are no numerical requisites but, in order to proceed, military requirements must be fulfilled by the interested countries. The multi-speed idea had to fight against some opposition in the past and also nowadays, especially from the Eastern EU countries that, frightened by the idea to be left behind, have always tried to slow down this process of integration. In fact, even if the Enhanced Cooperation were provided also by the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) they haven’t been made official in the following ten years, until the Lisbon treaty which simplified their process and extended the fields of their application. Despite all this, they are rarely used and just in very specific cases: they were only approved for fields such as divorce law, European patents and financial transaction tax.

If we take a look at the past, analyzing the history of the EU and the relationship between its members states we can realize that the multi-speed concept is not new for the Union: different levels of integration in fact, already exist between the European countries.Let’s think about monetary integration: the adoption of the single currency is mandatory for all the members from the moment that certain economic parameters are met but some states are exempted from this. Denmark and the UK opted out, and out of the other seven countries that didn’t adopt the Euro Sweden is the only one that from 15 years has reached the requirements but still doesn’t comply with the rule. Another example of different integration already existing between some European and some non-EU states concerns the Schengen cooperation that enhances and guarantees the free movement of person by enabling the citizens to cross internal borders without being subjected to border checks.

Although different groups of member states already work together at various levels of integration, it has never been an official policy to acknowledge and promote the different speeds of integration and this is the reason why the debate is back on the Official Agenda. Why should it work? This ambitious project is thought as a solution to ease tensions and problems afflicting the present, allowing small groups of countries to move forward. A more differentiated Europe, based around the idea of a variable geometry would see at the center the nineteen members of the Eurozone, then the full EU members that didn’t adopt the Euro. The next level could comprehend those countries that don’t want to join the EU but would like to participate as fully as possible to the Single Market including payments into the Eu budget and the acceptance of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice likely the three members of the EEC: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. A fourth level could be the set of those countries unwilling to accept the rules made in Brussels but still look for a free-trade agreement with EU: Britain would be the best candidate for such a group!

A reduced level of participant in the different projects will lead to quicker decisions, without the need to lower the contents of the various agreements caused by the refusal of a minority. The result hoped from this policy will be an incentive for those states who are now skeptical, will give the possibility to the different member states to join only the common proposals that suit them and so, it will make it easier for those who don’t want to give away their national rights to stay. In other words, different speeds are actually the most immediate and efficient instruments to solve the slowness in harmonizing the Union which needs to be now more united than ever!

By Francesca Pugliese