Differentiated integration can foster fairer cooperation between EU nations, but should be subject to constraints

Allowing European nations to integrate into the EU in a flexible way can foster fairer cooperation – but it should be subject to certain constraints, according to a new study.

Differentiated integration is increasingly a feature of the EU and means that certain laws and policies are not applied uniformly across all EU member states. Examples include the Schengen area, the Economic and Monetary Union and the European Public Prosecutor.

New analysis indicates that differentiated integration may be justified to accommodate heterogeneity across the EU and different preferences. However, some fear the process could lead to injustice among member states, including domination or free-riding.

In a new study, Associate Professor Sandra Kröger, from the University of Exeter, together with her collaborators, Professor Richard Bellamy (UCL) and Dr Marta Lorimer (LSE), recommend that no Member State should be excluded from a policy if its adoption means it would become worse than it currently is as a result. States should not be allowed to opt out of a policy or be exempted from meeting certain standards if it means that those who comply or participate in it are worse off, and that public goods such as the environment must be maintained despite differentiated integration.

Professor Kröger said: “Differential integration can accommodate both political and cultural diversity and socio-economic diversity. It should be considered as an option whenever seamless integration cannot be achieved. However, differentiated integration could also have negative effects. It would undermine democracy at both national and EU level if used to refuse to uphold equal rights and the rule of law. It would undermine solidarity if exemptions or exclusions from certain fundamental policies either allowed free riding or produced a two-speed EU.

Exclusions and exemptions should either be agreed unanimously by the representatives of all Member States when negotiating the accession of new members or the modification of the Treaties, or result from the choice of a Member State not to not participate in enhanced cooperation by at least nine Member States.

Professor Kröger said: “Differential integration must be procedurally and substantively fair. It must be accepted and established through a democratic process involving all Member States and EU citizens. The differentiated policy must be under the democratic control of participating states, but must remain subject to EU institutions and law and give consultation rights to non-adhering states.

The team interviewed 35 political party actors from seven EU Member States (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania).

Just over half of respondents express nuanced support for differentiated integration.

Half of those surveyed in the research said differentiated integration was a pragmatic path for the EU, with a significant minority worrying about its negative implications for political equality, solidarity and unity.

Those from poorer and less integrated Member States were generally more skeptical about the fairness of differentiated integration than those from older and wealthier Member States, as they feared being left behind, excluded and relegated to second-class status.

More than three quarters agreed that allowing different rates of integration could be fair and ensure a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of European integration. Two-thirds fear that if left unchecked it could lead to problems such as freeriding and some pay less than their fair share.

More than two-thirds said it would be wrong to arbitrarily exclude Member States from differentiated policies, and half said these policies should remain open to all and be based on clear criteria.

Regarding procedural fairness, half of them said they thought all member states should have a say in the European Council, even if only participating states should have the right to vote. They believed that all MEPs in the European Parliament should vote on differentiated policies.

Half of the respondents said they feared that differentiated integration would facilitate democratic backsliding.

The research was carried out as part of the Horizon2020 funded research project on Mainstreaming Diversity in the European Union (InDivEU). It was coordinated by the Robert Schuman Center of the European University Institute (Florence).

The Center for Political Thought and the Center for European Studies join forces for the launch of the book ‘Flexible Europe. Differentiated integration, equity and democracy’ by Richard Bellamy, Sandra Kröger and Marta Lorimer.

The book launch will take place on Wednesday 16and of March, from 1:45 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and will be fully online at https://Universityofexeter.zoom.us/j/95960192348?pwd=SEU2bHNJeHRHRHdScHZ3d1Q3NGlmZz09

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