Differentiated Integration, Reconsidered

Differentiated Integration, Reconsidered

de Hartmut Marhold

"The history of recent years has shown that there will be a multi-speed EU, and not all members will participate in the same steps of integration," said Angela Merkel after the informal EU-Summit at Valetta/Malta, 3 February 2017 – “ it was the first time that Merkel clearly claimed this old idea as her own.” It amounts to a U-turn in Merkel’s EU-integration strategy; until now, she has, in fact, pinned all her hopes on advancing towards tighter and tougher integration with all the – 27! – Member States of the Union. She is not the only one to switch from a one-fits-all approach to differentiated integration: François Hollande agreed as much on the idea at the same time as the Italian government, and the three Benelux-countries went as far as to publish an official statement on the topic. “Different paths of integration and enhanced cooperation could provide for effective responses to challenges that affect member states in different ways. These arrangements should be inclusive and transparent, with the greatest possible involvement of the other member states and EU institutions.” This means that all the six founding Member States agreed, almost at the same moment, on a strategy of integration which is certainly not new, from a historical perspective, but has not been part of the game plan since the Brexit vote and the so-called Bratislava road-map, agreed upon in September 2016 and aiming at a reform vision for the EU to be achieved at the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties, in March 2017. Last but not least, the President of the Commission joined the chorus: “’I think the time has come for us to answer this historic question: do we want to move forward – as a group of 28 – in fact, we`ve already lost the 28th – or should those who want to move forward faster do so without bothering the others, by putting in place a better structure, open to all?’ Juncker asked, adding that he would ‘argue for this’ in the coming days.” What has led to Angela Merkel, on behalf of Germany, and the other founding member states changing their minds? And what can a “multi-speed” Europe, what can “different paths and enhanced cooperation” mean?

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