European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will support “more Europe” for all members instead of a two-speed model that would split the bloc, a senior Commission official has said, refuting previous allegations.
Juncker’s post-Brexit vision for the EU could find unexpected allies in London. Britain’s former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in November 2015 that “it is in all our interests for the eurozone to have the right governance and structures to secure a successful currency for the long-term”.
His successor, Theresa May, also wants a stable and “successful” Europe, since the remaining 27 EU members are likely to remain Britain’s top trading partner.
In a white paper published last Wednesday (1 March), Juncker outlined five options to overcome the existing challenges Europe faces following its divorce with the UK.
They were 1) ‘Carry on’; 2) ‘Nothing but the single market’; 3) ‘Those who want more, do more’; 4) ‘Doing less, more efficiently’; and 5) ‘Doing much more together’.
But contrary to what was initially suggested to the press, Juncker has a preference for the latter option, where the 27 EU members share more powers, resources and decision-making across the board.
Juncker’s aides say the Commission president was holding his cards close to his chest. He didn’t want to influence the discussion but have an open debate with the member states on how the EU project should move forward, Commission officials explained.
In previous speeches, Juncker made clear that his preferred option was a ‘two-speed Europe’, the third scenario. This alternative would help keep reluctant member states on board while an avant-garde of countries push ahead with further integration.
“Do we want to move forward as 28 – already we have lost the 28th member – or should we not allow those who want to move faster to do so without affecting the others, by building a more structured set-up, open to everyone?” he said in a speech at Louvain-la-Neuve University.
“I will plead in this direction in the coming days. And we can do less by doing better,” he told the students on 23 February.
But this option is strongly opposed by the Visegrad group of countries comprising Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“Regardless of the speed of integration, we all need to pull in one direction, have a common objective, vision and trust in a strong and prosperous Union,” the leaders of the V4 countries said on 2 March.
They accepted that the “enhanced cooperation” instrument, which already exists in EU treaties, could be used “to ensure a necessary flexibility”.
But “any form of enhanced cooperation should be open to every member state and should strictly avoid any kind of disintegration of the single market, the Schengen area and the European Union itself”, they added in a statement.
State of the Union
A senior Commission official acknowledged the V4 group’s concerns about the risk of creating first and second-class citizens in the bloc with a multi-speed model.
The same source insisted that Juncker would back the fifth scenario when he outlines his vision in the state of the EU address next September.
By then, the Commission expects a common position will have started to emerge among member states on the future of Europe. The “first conclusions” should be drawn at the December European Council meeting.
Juncker discussed with his team the most appropriate moment to come up with his vision. He decided to use the white paper as a starting point in order to avoid backlash from governments and citizens.
“It could have been perceived as another project imposed by Brussels”, the official told EURACTIV.
As the ball is in the member states’ court, the EU executive now hopes for a strong endorsement of the EU project coming from the Versailles summit taking place today (6 March). France will host the leaders of Germany, Spain and Italy to discuss the future of Europe and prepare an EU summit on 9-10 March.
Speaking after a Spanish-French bilateral summit on 20 February, French President François Hollande argued that countries like Spain and Germany wanted to follow “our own pace”.
“Some people want an EU without ambition,” Hollande lamented.
“Spain is and will be in favour of more and better integration,” its government said after the publication of the white paper. “Only together we could face the global challenges and defend more efficiently our values and interests,” the statement added.
Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxemburg revived the proposal for a ‘two-speed Europe’ during the Valetta summit on 3 February.
“Different paths of integration and enhanced cooperation could provide for effective responses to challenges that affect member states in different ways,” a joint document read.