- Differentiation within the EU already exists
- It should be always open to all member states
- It should neither lead to ‘à la carte’ solutions nor limit progress towards an ‘ever closer union’
- ‘Some form of partnership’ should be offered to a country which wants a close relationship with the EU without fully complying with the treaties
Parliament opposed to ‘Europe à la carte’ and ‘second-class’ membership, in a resolution put to the vote on Thursday.
MEPs took stock of the differing levels of European integration among member states, commonly referred to as ‘Europe à la carte’, ‘variable geometry’, ‘multi-speed Europe’ or ‘first- and second-class membership’. They also made several recommendations, so that differentiation serves the European project, rather than endangering it.
Flexibility, not fragmentation
MEPs are of the opinion that differentiation is compatible with European integration, since it is sometimes required in order to embark on new European projects and allow the necessary flexibility to drive integration forward. However, they refuse to consider differentiation ‘as an innovative way for the future of the Union’ or a ‘strategic priority’.
Any kind of differentiated integration agreed by member states should only be seen as a pragmatic, ‘second-best option’ open to all member states and a temporary step on the path towards more effective and integrated policymaking in a ‘limited number of policies’. In any case, it should not undermine the ‘process of creating an ever closer Union’ or lead to a ‘first- and second-class membership’. MEPs warn against the risk of political and institutional fragmentation and the excessive complexity of the decision-making process that are brought about by the differentiation and make the EU system hard to understand for citizens.
Lower level of differentiation in a future treaty
A revision of the Treaties may be needed to bring order to the current forms and scope of differentiation. It should lead to:
- an end to member states permanently opting out of EU law (MEPs think Brexit could be an opportunity to move towards models of ‘opting in’)
- members being obliged to fully comply with primary EU law in all policy areas
- full adherence with the EU’s fundamental values and the rule of law, with no possible differentiation among the countries in this field
- countries that cannot or do not want to commit to fully complying with EU primary law would have ‘some form of partnership’ with the EU available to them
This non-legislative resolution was backed by 446 MEPs, 138 were against, and 19 abstained.
Integrating into the EU can vary in pace, territorial scope and degree and may legally take various forms:
- enhanced cooperation among a group of countries (for example in divorce law)
- permanent structured cooperation (in security and defence)
- a few countries negotiated a permanent opt-out from EU legislation (for example Denmark opts out of the euro and the Schengen system)
- transitional measures applied to new member states (Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification or temporary derogations).
How differentiation is perceived varies significantly depending on the national context. It may be positive, if seen as an opportunity to progress more rapidly in deepening integration, or negative, if seen as a path towards creating first- and second-class membership.