Multi-speed Europe is not a new thing when it comes down to EU and it was existing way before the appearance of this name, or before this opportunity was even constituted by the European judicial system.
But what’s the meaning behind multi-speed Europe? Multi-speed Europe or two-speed Europe (called also "variable geometry Europe" or "Core Europe", depending on the form it would take in practice) is the idea that different parts of the European Union should integrate at different levels and pace depending on the political situation in each individual country. One of those forms is the Schengen agreement, signed on 14 June 1985, by five of the ten member states of the European Economic Community at this time.
Schengen agreement became part of European judicial system barely in 1999. This mechanism – cooperation outside of EU contracts is one of the opportunities that European countries wanting stronger integration stated that might use if they’re not allowed to work inside the frames of the European Union. More up to date examples of similar cooperation are the package of policies that were accepted as a result of the Greek government-debt crisis – the banking union and the fiscal stability treaty.
Another form is the Eurozone. It has always been a part of European Union’s judicial system – all European Union member countries should join it, except for United Kingdom and Denmark. For its accession, there are certain criteria that should be fulfilled, which in practice makes it unreachable and beyond many countries’ economic level of development.
Other form is the so called enhanced cooperation procedure. It has few modifications, but in general in this form of cooperation minimum 9 countries could demand for join policy on certain area, in case of classified majority acceptance by the other countries. The key moment in this is that countries with 35% of EU’s population, that is to say Great Britain with all eastern European countries and one more western European country, could block this decision and vote. That’s why up-to-date there’re just three enhanced cooperation procedures that were accepted and are currently applied. With United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, all these arithmetic’s equations will be transformed and this control package will be in the hands of the other “big countries.
From present perspective, it seems ironical that the term “Multi-speed Europe” was originated back in the time by the German kanzler Willy Brandt, in terms of Great Britain joining the European communities at this time. And now, when London will be finally out of the European Union, those multi-speeds could take their own roads. The proponents of such policy argue that it provides flexibility, while also allowing the necessary integration to proceed. They argue that 28 countries making decisions unilaterally is almost impossible and any attempt to further integrate the EU as a whole is doomed to fail. In the Luxemburgish Prime Minister’s words, “I will not be a hostage of one or the other on domestic policy issues.” All these considerations have merit and a multi-speed Europe truly seems the best way forward. However, we have to be aware of the danger included in such a project. In particular, the multi-speed Europe includes the danger all of creating a second class status for certain countries.
Then what about the developing countries in the European Union? The differences between various European countries and regions are still present today, despite all the convergence efforts of the European Union. The first area where these inequalities are evident is the economy. In particular the difference between the GDP per capita of the richest EU country (Luxembourg) and the poorest one (Bulgaria) is 76,000 euros. This standard of living also by arise significantly by country, as 40% of Bulgaria’s population is at the risk of social exclusion in contrast to 15% in the Czech Republic. The economic inequality of various EU countries is demonstrated by many other measures, such as unemployment and growth.
Added on the economic disparity, there is also significant difference between the capacities of each country to implement policy. These differences are correlated and affected by the country’s wealth as poor countries tend to have weaker institutions. Many of these countries have widespread corruption and weaker enforcement mechanisms. This means that the ability of every EU country to implement reforms in order to converge upward varies, which creates a self-reinforcing vicious cycle of poverty, low growth and disparity.
Although even the poorest countries of the EU have improved significantly, the inequality among them and the rich EU countries remains high and in some cases, like Greece, has increased.
The multi-speed EU is truly an opportunity to move towards the completion of the European project. However, in doing so, European leaders have to ensure that we are not leaving any country behind. Therefore, the commitment to upward convergence among members and to maintaining the doors of integration open needs to be reinstated during the creation of the new EU.
[artigo de opinião produzido no âmbito da unidade curricular “Economia Portuguesa e Europeia” do 3º ano do curso de Economia (1º ciclo) da EEG/UMinho]