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Saturday, 29 September 2012 10:11

Differentiated integration – why not?

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"Differentiation is already a fact, the question is what kind of differentiation." That's how you could briefly sum up the fascinating final panel discussion of the Allianz Alumni Academy that took place on Saturday close to the Brandenburg Gate in shyly sunny Berlin. Allianz Alumni Academy is an annual meeting attended by young European leaders who participated in summer schools organised by the Allianz Cultural Foundation. Coming back to the witty phrase in the beginning of the paragraph (belonging to Janis Emmanouilidis from the European Policy Centre) we must admit that this is sad, but true. The EU is not as consolidated as it supposedly was in the pre-crisis past, nor can we still stick to the simplifying narratives of a two-speed Europe, because there are actually far more "integration speeds." The crisis has only catalysed this phenomenon. While we can still warm ourselves with Jean Monnet's ideas about crises that foster integration, we can't avoid acknowledging that Europe's future is not clear at all.

The necessity of flexibility

The crisis provides us with a unique chance to reform Europe. It has revealed some of the diseases that remained (or were kept) secret before. Hence we should use it and try to find appropriate conclusions. It seems almost obvious that reaching a compromise and finding a solution to our mess will be easier and quicker, the fewer states are involved. However, as far as I remember, the statistics of voting in the Council (before and after the Lisbon reform) do not confirm this assumption: the member states are in unanimous agreement just as often now as they were before, even though a larger number of members are now involved in decision making.

Nevertheless most of the discussion participants I've talked to thought it would make more sense to give the eurozone what belongs to eurozone - it would allow them to deal with the problems more effectively without the whimsical assistance of 10 other states.

It is also important to keep in mind, as the European Parliament President's diplomatic adviser Arnoldas Pranckevicius points out, that it is not only the currency that's at stake. We're facing "the greatest existential crisis ever in the history of the EU." This demands something more than dealing with finances, debts and ratings.

Open Core

Incidentally, the EU luminaries made the same observation and put it down in a report by the four EU presidents [Council, Commission, Euro Group and ECB], "Towards a genuine economic and monetary Union" in June, 2012. As one participant noticed - somewhat symptomatically, the president of the European Parliament did not participate in the report.

On the basis of this document Janis Emmanouilidis proposed his 4-phase vision of the EU's future at the Allianz Alumni Academy. According to his plan, after the banking union and the securing of EU financial stability we'll discuss the ratification process of a new EU treaty in 2016/17. This will decide whether we are going to live in a functionally differentiated Europe or a defragmented continent administered by individual institutions and ad-hoc coalitions.


In the end, the idea of core Europe - that is a closely integrated and strongly consolidated European motor "avant-guarding" the rest of the member states - does not necessarily imply something bad. As long each state retains "equal chances and clear path to becoming a member [of the core]," as Jehona Gjurgjeala, Allianz Alumni Academy attendee, underlined. According to Emmanouilidis that is certainly possible, because simply establishing "a closed core" would not pay off for its participants. What's more, Jehona also considers that a workable differentiation may be based on the concept of concentric circles. Entering each circle would require fulfilling some set of demands that should also continue (and be monitored) after joining it. In general she suggests that "membership of the EU should be considered a privilege, not a right." 

Another possible benefit to establishing such a "core" could come as a result of limiting the strict division of membership/non-membership by creating an integration ladder: this approach could mean that concepts of partial membership or privileged partnership are developed. These terms describe a new formula for applicant states to integrate with the EU within certain areas in which they've already met the standards (before becoming a full member). However, the concept remains highly controversial and unfortunately largely unimaginable given the current treaties. I'd venture to suggest that it could serve as a good solution particularly for small states such as Moldova, Kosovo or Georgia.

Only one minute more of border control?

But is this differentiated integration only a matter of high politics that doesn't affect our everyday lives? Let's look for instance at one of the most visible "differentiating factors" which is the possibility to cross borders without a passport. Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania are still outside our European borderless travelling paradise established by the Schengen Agreement. Georgi Iliev, a self-described D'Artagnan who is originally from Bulgaria, told me that this is not actually a major problem for regular citizens as long it only takes "one minute more of border control." He also stated that there's no frustration about that matter within Bulgarian society. On the other hand János Fazakas from Romania finds it a bit irritating and cannot comprehend the EU's position when the respective countries have already met all the Schengen demands.

"Doing integration this way means no room for European identity and solidarity."

Such ambivalence is quite similar to the concerns that Agata Jaskot, a cosmo-Polish blonde girl, shared with me. Although she can see some reason behind "the differentiated integration" scenario, she still feels that it is contradictory to the idea of integration itself. Moreover, she is deeply annoyed with "the core discourse." "There's no core of Europe," she claims. "Perhaps in terms of politics and economics some states are more important, but Europe is not only about that." When she lived in Paris and observed the French presidential election campaign she often felt angry about the constant reminder that "Germany and France have to take responsibility for Europe." Isn't there something imperialist about this thinking? Doesn't it meant that we are dividing our continent into ruling core empires and subordinate peripheries once again? Differentiation is definitely connected with many threats concerning those aspects of integration which are already highly fragile. It may even call their relevance into question. As Thomas Kösters argued, "doing integration this way means no room for European identity and solidarity."

Don't institutionalise the divisions

Well, differentiation is a fact. A reality catalysed by the crisis that we need to face. The situation implies three tasks. First of all, we should not get complacent and believe that a less severe "cold crisis" (once again Janis Emmanouilidis) means the end of problems - after all, "cold war" didn't mean peace. We should use the possibility to reform Europe. Secondly, crisis is perhaps the first pan-European hot political and concrete topic that - if discussed, reported and governed in an appropriate way - may serve as an unintentional conveyor of the longed-for common European public sphere. A sphere populated not only by distinguished deliberators, but also by those who were hitherto excluded by the questionable "reasonable pluralism" of purely abstract European debates. And finally, we should do our best not to institutionalise the divisions in Europe. Whatever happens, whoever fails to ratify the prophesied treaty in 2017, and whether or not we end up establishing bodies which ignore the current treaties, we must keep Europe open.

Last modified on Saturday, 29 September 2012 15:38
Ziemowit Jóźwik

Ziemowit Jóźwik is 23. Coming from Bieliny, a small village in the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland), he is now based in the more well known city of Krakow. Having written for Europe & Me since Issue 5 he will now take on the challenge of expanding our knowledge of the eastern borders of the European landscape. His blog will explore how European issues are understood 'under Eastern eyes.'

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