By Aleksandra Polak, CASE
On December 9, during a summit marking the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, called for moving forward with a two-speed Europe. If implemented, this approach would create a different orbit for those EU Member States who do not wish to take part in all facets of EU integration.
Juncker is not the first European leader to support the concept that different Member States should be able to integrate at different paces, with ‘core’ countries being the avant-garde of European integration. This idea, first proposed by Wolfgang Schäuble in 1994, has resurged during pre-Brexit negotiations and has been endorsed by the six founding EU members states and key European players such as Federica Mogherini and François Hollande.
In the wake of the Eurozone crisis, there has been a growing consensus among core European leaders that the Eurogroup’s informal status as a Eurozone government should be formalized via closer political union within the Eurozone. The recent proposal of Paolo Gentiloni, Italian foreign minister and now soon-to-be Prime Minister, where the EU should contain a smaller circle of countries which would share the single currency, the Schengen Treaty and, especially, a better coordination of defence, seems to be the most plausible scenario. Such intensified integration within Eurozone core countries could include policies such as adopting common eurobonds, collectivizing debt, and completing the banking union.
The EU leaders’ determination to proceed with a two-track Europe, apart from the political will to advance economic and political integration in the Eurozone, has been largely influenced by the lack of agreement between Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries and the EU during the ongoing migration crisis. Creating two tiers of EU membership could be seen as a way of circumventing the countries of the Visegrad Group and other CEECs because of their reluctance toward instituting a migrant quota.
Nonetheless, the Visegrad Four’s significance and its influence on the decision-making process in the EU would considerably diminish in the two-speed European Union. Even though Poland and Hungary have called for a cultural counter-revolution to reform the EU and have claimed that the Visegrad Four holds “enormous potential” and “a recipe for the EU”, CEE countries are likely to become a second- or even a third-speed Europee if the core countries decide to proceed with closer integration.