Integrating Europe: Multiple Speeds – One Direction?

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This working paper by the EPC contains two separate articles on whether there is a need for “enhanced cooperation” and the applicability of flexible integration to various policy areas.

Executive summary of “Flexible means to further integration” by Giovanni Grevi

On the eve of enlargement, the process of European integration risks running into stalemate. Serious controversy between Member States has undermined the basis for constructive dialogue on shared priorities. In this context, some national leaders have called for a two-speed Europe, where more ambitious countries would form a pioneer group and lead the others by furthering integration. Many Member States have reacted negatively to these proposals fearing that they could be left behind as ‘second-class’ members. More generally, the debate on flexible integration is inconsistent and confused. This paper calls for an improvement in the quality of this debate. The paper then moves on to assess different forms of flexible integration and outlines proposals on what should be done through ‘flexible’ means.

The expected resumption of inter-governmental negotiations on the draft Constitutional Treaty and the desire for an early conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), during the Irish Presidency, are encouraging signs. This paper, however, argues that the Union urgently needs a new, thriving political project to unlock the current blockage, outline shared objectives and mobilise public opinion and decision-makers. It is essential that national governments endorse a common position. In this perspective, flexibility should be a means to an end. All countries should advance in the same, broad direction. However, they should be able to do so at different speeds, on different subjects. It is a matter of accommodating diversity in a single political and institutional framework in a pragmatic, but not casual, fashion.

The Union does not need, at this stage, a ‘hard core,’ and there is no evidence that a group of countries is willing to form one. Member States should pursue flexible integration, where necessary, by different means on different issues, under the scrutiny of the common institutions, so as not to undermine the political cohesion of the Union, and policy coherence. This paper explores ways in which this should be done, and what initiatives should be undertaken.

Cooperation outside the Treaty framework, micro-flexibility, pre-determined flexibility and enhanced cooperation are four basic models of differentiated integration. Closer cooperation outside the Treaty remains a ‘safety valve’ in case of prolonged stalemate, but is not the most appropriate means to ease current political tensions within the Union. Micro-forms of flexibility, anchoring exemptions in EU law or allowing for constructive abstention, can be occasionally useful in such domains as economic competitiveness, environment, social policy, CFSP and JHA. Pre-determined forms of flexibility, such as EMU, played a very important role in the past, and can still help progress in the domain of defence, for example, as well as in extending the powers of the Euro-Ecofin Council. It is, however, essential that decision-making remains transparent and inclusive. Enhanced cooperation, finally, as provided for by enabling clauses in the treaties, is a very useful mechanism for making progress in a number of areas, from corporate taxation to police cooperation, while ensuring that the common institutions are fully involved.

These different forms of flexible integration, with the exception of flexibility outside the Treaty, which should remain a remedy of very last resort, should be used in implementing a common political project, reflecting renewed political cohesion. Member States should take part, together with the common institutions, in shaping a new project for the Union. This paper offers some suggestions on how to trigger this new, ambitious process.


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For more analyses on this and other topics, visit the

EPC website.  

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