Multilevel Europe: A win-win for EU and Ukraine

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report EU-Ukraine Relations.

A multilevel Europe is both a chance for the EU to survive and return to economic prosperity, while for Ukraine it opens new chances to get closer to the Union and envisage a shared future, writes Roman Rukomeda from Ukrainian foundation 'People First'.

Roman Rukomeda holds a doctorate in political science and is an analyst at the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy – 'People First'.

"This year will be key in testing European unity, reaching consensus and making tactical concessions for the sake of strategic advantages. Despite the internal crisis of the European Union – which is of a systemic character – unitary Europe has considerable chances to develop dynamically and effectively.

The secret of success, in my opinion, lies in the creation of a flexible, multilevel political structure for the Union. It can be seen as a triad: deep integration, framework cooperation and associate membership. From the outside the EU would look like more as a confederation that as united federal state. 

The way out of the present-day political-structural-systemic crisis of the EU is the transition to a matrix-type political system. Taking into account the constant conflict of interests between London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and the Brussels headquarters, as well as the sovereignty claims from newer EU members, it should be advisable to recognise confederation as a viable form for the EU in the next decade.

Political theory considers confederation as something transitional. It can indeed play a transitional role, rescuing unitary Europe from its chronic political disputes. By the way, confederation leaves a door open to the development of a Big Europe, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, as is has been defined by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

However, to be efficient, such a confederation should be of matrix type. It could be divided into three levels. The first one is a nucleus of the future European federation, with integration which goes as deep as possible, including delegation of powers to supranational structures – like today's External Action Service and the European Stabilisation Mechanism – while later there could be a unitary Ministry of Economic Development or Defence. The logic of the process is fixed by the Lisbon Treaty, in force since 1 January 2009. From the financial and economic side, this line is continued by the last agreement on budgetary stability – the fiscal compact, expected to be signed by 25 member states in March.

The second level is the present interaction inside the EU, where there are framework rules for each member state of the European Union, but not enough common structures and institutes for avoiding conflicts of national interests. This level would provide participation in framework treaties of the EU, but without the delegation of national powers. This level would become optimum for those EU countries which have eloquent national interests and aren't planning to be dissolved in "the European melting pot", to the delight of the Brussels bureaucracy. The most vivid example is Great Britain. At this level the participant states wouldn't take up additional obligations, they would keep relative sovereignty, but also wouldn't have a say in the strategic planning of the EU policy. However, preservation of sovereignty would mean less influence upon the policymaking strategy.

The third level is association membership in the EU. This is a club of allies and partners of the present EU. These are the states which aren't a part of the European Union formally, but have prospects to become EU members. They include not only the Western Balkan countries, but also Ukraine, Moldova and Turkey. Having consolidated this level as a form of participation in the European confederation, the EU would be able to considerably expand its influence as a global player in the South and the East.

An Association Agreement would automatically imply the membership prospect in case of fulfilling all formal criteria. Kyiv or Ankara would be reassured of their European prospects, and at the same time, European values and norms would act as guidelines for the EU neighbours at the East and South. It is not excluded that the Russian Federation would joint this level of cooperation with the European Union as well.

The three-speed structure in the EU could be a win-win solution to Europe's problems. There would be space for "locomotives" of Union in search of deeper integration, for old EU members that wish to preserve wide sovereign rights and national interests, and also for neighbours and potential members of the EU, interested in political and economic integration with Europe.

Multilevel Europe can become an optimum form for the preservation of political development of the European Union, unity of its members and economic stability. The EU is too diverse to be unified according to one standard. Isn't it better to create a flexible structure where each member state would choose its own level of political and economic integration into the unitary Europe?"

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