1. New members old problems
* What should that future look like?
There’s a feeling among European leaders that the bloc has weathered the worst of its recent crises — euro, refugee, Brexit — and should now turn its focus to the future.
The question now: What should that future look like? Is European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s vision of a more integrated union the right way forward? Or should we be heeding French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a more flexible bloc?
If the EU wants to survive its (inevitable) future crises, the answer is easy. The only real option is to get behind Macron’s vision: Leave reluctant countries behind and allow others to move ahead on key policies.
It won’t be easy, of course. The French president has plenty of opponents. Traditional federalists want to use the departure of the foot-dragging Brits to push remaining EU members closer together. They worry that too much “variable geometry” will weaken EU institutions, a new report by the Centre for European Reform has found. Meanwhile, Euroskeptic Central Europeans — including Poland’s ruling party — worry that in a Europe of “concentric circles” the dominant eurozone countries will treat those on the outer tiers as second-class citizens.
Brussels has offered countries to the east and south too little incentive for entering its orbit.
But despite these challenges, current political trends make it likely the EU will move toward Macron’s model. The French president has found a powerful partnerin German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he is preparing new initiatives on eurozone governance. These are likely to help further integrate the monetary union and create new eurozone institutions, including its own budget and system of parliamentary scrutiny.
Brexit is also pushing the EU in the direction of more flexibility, as a number of governments draw the lesson that the EU should try harder to accommodate different objectives and priorities among its members. Italian ministers, for example, reckon that it isn’t realistic to expect that every EU country will want to sign up to the same policies.
A more supple EU would be harder to break apart and more viable in the long run. Macron is right to say that governments wary of integration should not impede more ambitious countries from moving ahead. This more ambitious group simply needs to leave the door open for those on the periphery to join in later — if and when they meet a set of objective criteria for entering that inner circle.
Relieving countries from the duty of joining in certain policies could also help lower domestic political pressure. Despite Warsaw’s current hostility to Macron’s ideas, for example, many Poles will likely prefer an EU that doesn’t force them to join the euro.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at : eu