Pros and cons of multi-speed EU

Two-speed EU or multi-speed EU has been to a certain degree a reality for some time. But it seems it is to many also the preferable scenario for the EU future. In your opinion, what would be pros and cons of institutionalized multi-speed EU? Read few comments.

The new building of the European Council and the Council of the European Union. Credit: www.

Isabel Camisão, Professor na Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra

The idea of a two/multi-speed Europe as you said is not new and in fact has been a reality for quiet some time. Indeed, since the first “opting out” (a Commission’s “invention” to pass the Charter of the Social Rights without the British opposition) we have differentiated integration (sometimes also described as variable geometry or concentric circles, even though these concepts could in fact mean different things, particularly because multi-speed Europe would presuppose that States share the same goal, while the other two concepts don’t), confirmed by the fact that the Union has Member States (MS) that are not part of the Eurozone, that are not part of the Schengen area, that have opted out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights or of the Fiscal Compact, that have the possibility of establishing a Permanent structured Cooperation (PESCO) (provided by the Lisbon Treaty) that will allow willing MS to move forward… and the list goes on.

So, at times, considering particular circumstances, multi-speed Europe could be a useful pragmatic solution, used by those who want to move ahead, to overcome the unwillingness of those who want to stall the integration process. That being said, multi-speed Europe, as a pragmatic solution, was meant to be the exception and not the rule. Also, the differentiation between states was thought to be temporary, meaning that some states would advance rapidly, but eventually the other will follow. Presenting the scenario of an institutionalized multi-speed Europe as the only feasible scenario for the future of Europe appears to lock in Europe in this path. Of course, it would probably lead to more integration, but since this will only apply to a small/core group, where does this leave the ideal of a “common” project based on the principle of solidarity? Also, the EU system of governance is already complex enough (due to the high degree of institutionalization of the EU). If the general rule will be to have different institutions and decision-making procedures for different groups of states, this risks adding complexity to an already intricate system, further alienating citizens’ support and trust, particularly without a proper coordinator body.

Summing up, Europe has already too many divisions (rich and poor; north and south; big and small). Do we really need to institutionalize these divisions? Do we really need to have a multi-speed Europe that eventually could turn into a “Europe à la carte”? Arguably, the problem with this particular solution (or scenario) is that its net benefits could be outweighed by its perils. their societies that this is the way forward.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, Associate Professor, Chair, Department of International Relations, Director, Center for International and European Studies (CIES), Kadir Has University

The time of reckoning is arriving for the European Union and the future of the project of European Integration. In a way, we find ourselves in the midst of a 1950 moment when on 9 May, five years after the end of the Second World in Europe, France’s Foreign Minister Robert Schuman speech stayed in history as the Schuman Declaration and that day henceforth became Europe Day. What did Schuman say? a new model of governance is needed for Europe, one that would avoid a third and fatal world war…hence he called upon a new relationship with Germany (at least the Western part) of peacemeal integration open to any other country that was ready to join…and the rest is history.

Today’s moment is not quite that one as no decisions have yet been taken but it is important in that it launches a debate that something has to change whether it is a renewed commitment to what exists or the creation of something new such as a multi speed Europe or two speed Europe….is this a good thing?

In a way whether the mutispeed model prevails or doing more of the same, the positive aspect is that either approach vindicates more integration and that most countries that are not in the hard core would aspire to join it soon.

Of course, it is not an easy process to swallow for many of the smaller states that form the majority of the member states of the Union. For, example, it would be an anathema to Greece, that has always had as a strategic objective to be at the hard core, the noyau dur, of Europe…for its security and stability as a flank state of the EU, as a state with external borders in a troubled neighbourhood….of course, its lost credibility suggests that it has a long road ahead of it…like many other smaller EU member states.

On the other hand, a multi speed Europe might be the impetus the integration process needs…yet, several questions come to mind especially in contrast to the past …to 1950 to Messina in 1955 to the Treaty of Rome in 1957…the meeting of the four in Versailles suggest that the model at two is not powerful or enticing enough to spur on further integration. But most importantly, the question that arises are whether the Merkels, the Hollandes, the Rajoys, the Gentilinis, the Junckers of this world and their eventual successors carry the gravitas of the title Europe’s many founding fathers carried with them…the gravitas needed to convince their societies that this is the way forward.

Filipa Figueira, Lecturer in Politics and Economics of the European Union, University College London

Indeed, a multi-speed EU effectively already exists, especially in relation to Eurozone versus non-Eurozone countries. However, as you mention there are growing calls for institutionalising the multi-speed nature of the EU.


-A multi-speed Europe would make it easier to accommodate the differences in preferences, economic needs and political situations between the EU Member States, and could therefore potentially bring with it significant benefits, in terms of both the efficiency and the legitimacy of the EU

-It will be difficult to avoid future Euro-crises unless there is further fiscal and political integration between Eurozone countries. A multi-speed framework would make it easier for Eurozone countries to integrate further, without this affecting non-Eurozone countries

-The growing Euroscepticism throughout Europe is partly due to a perception that the EU is integrating too fast in some policy areas – a multi-speed framework would enable countries whose populations oppose certain aspects of EU integration to opt out of those more easily

-In relation to this, the institutionalisation of multi-speed integration could be a way to address the “democratic deficit” problem, if it is operationalised in a way that offers more accountability and a greater reflection of national preferences


-Following the Brexit shock, any dramatic changes in the EU’s functioning could be misinterpreted, and perceived as evidence of EU disintegration

-Given that differentiated integration effectively already exists, it could be argued that there is no need to institutionalise it, as such a process would involve complex and time-consuming negotiations between EU countries

Simon Sweeney, Senior Lecturer International Political Economy and Business, University of York

You are right, the EU has always followed a multispeed approach to integration.

The first imperative for the EU is that its member states individually and collectively accept the severity of the crisis confronting Europe. This is multifaceted.
1 Democratic deficit: the EU lacks legitimacy, it is technocratic and bureaucratic; it degraded consensus among European peoples.
2 The Union’s institutional structures do not work. They are skewed towards intergovernmental bargaining that obscures the common good.
3 EMU/Euro crisis. The economic and currency union cannot be sustained without a full political union, backed by a properly functioning central bank that acts as a lender of last resort (like the US Federal Reserve).
4 Migration and the failure of the Union to stand by its avowed values and founding principles: instead it depends on others to resolve the problem with short term piecemeal bribes (e.g. to Erdogan’s Turkey). Meanwhile the only EU states to show any moral compass on this issue are Germany and Sweden – others have turned their backs (this is not true of the communities where migrants have landed, where people have demonstrated compassion and generosity); it is governments that are failing in responding to the migration crisis.
5 Brexit. The EU risks seeking to punish the UK for its calamitous decision to quit the Union. The EU needs a good relationship with the UK and should focus on achieving that.
6. Security. The Union has failed to develop an autonomous defence and security capability. Trump is right: EU member states with few exceptions have freeloaded on the USA for decades: this must stop. The required minimum defence spending of 2% of GDP is only part of the problem: more important is to end inefficiencies and duplication. The EU member states must implement European Defence Agency recommendations on capability enhancement. This must include the UK, even if the UK leaves the European Union.

How should we go forward from such a multitude of existential threats?

The break up of the EU would be a catastrophe for Europe (including the UK) so immediate remedial action is required.
Whether this is one speed or multispeed is a moot point. My guess is that it will be quite impossible to get agreement among 27 or 28 so therefore multispeed is the only way forward. At the heart of this is Germany – by far the most important member state and the one on whom all others (with the possible exception of Ireland) depend.

All member states have to decide whether to join a political and federal union with Germany – a hard European political union that encompasses perhaps a dozen states in the first instance, within which a reshaped hard euro and a currency and economic union is managed by a genuine central bank supported by a common fiscal and tax regime. Others may join this hard centre. Any current Eurozone members who do not like this will have to form their own currency union or revert to their former weak and unstable currencies – not something I would recommend, but inevitable unless they join the hard centre in a full political and economic union.

So the choice is fundamental: either the EU coheres around political union, and dispenses with the unworkable intergovernmental bargaining in which states desperately defend their perceived home interests, or the Union develops a hard centre and a flaky second tier of associate membership, states which in the medium term might choose to join the centre (but it will become more difficult in the future, not less so). The alternative is the break up of the Eurozone, and the break up – or dissolution – of the EU.

What needs to happen first? Of fundamental importance is the election of Emmanuel Macron to the Presidency of France. Immediately following this there should be an EU summit at which these issues are aired and France and Germany lead a process of complete and total political union, inviting others to join. Of the 27, we will see how many leaderships show the vision required to take this step. They will need to explain to their publics what is happening and why and in return offer guarantess to the citizens of Europe that a proper democratic republic is under construction, with guaranteed rights and responsibilities of all participants, and a genuine overseeing and law-making European Parliament that fully reperesents common and regional (not state) interests, as well as the rights of European citizens. These are geopolitical matters and Europeans need to be reminded of the failures and catastrophes of the past so as not to repeat them.

So it will be multispeed because I cannot believe that all 27 member states (I exclude the UK) will come to the same conclusions at the same time. For the good of the continent, it would be better to recognise the urgency of the situation, but I am not sure that en masse human beings are clever enough to make the right choices. We are unfortunately afflicted by three curses. One, the knowledge of our own mortality; second, the conceit that we are superior to other animals rather than that we are mere animals; and three the fact that while we are undoubtedly intelligent, we are equally stupid.

It is clear that Trump and Putin want Europe to fail. That alone should focus European minds.

Yann-Sven Rittelmeyer, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre (EPC)

The EU is at a crucial moment with the UK finally about to trigger article 50 and a new strategy for the process of European integration about to be adopted. The EU is already differentiated in key areas such as, for example, the free movement of persons with the Schengen agreement, the economy and the currency with the Euro and mechanisms adopted following the financial and debt crises, or in defence matters. But we are about to change the modus operandi from ever closer union for all to more integration in certain areas for those willing to do so.


Differentiated integration bears some risks for the overall cohesion and political unity of the EU but it is a concrete way to move forward and break deadlocks. In its current state, the EU deeply need to move forward and prove its added value to the citizens. For this purpose, it needs new instruments to break up the current deadlock in European integration and the multi-speed EU is one of them.


The decision to further differentiate the EU will be mentioned in the Rome declaration at the end of the month but in a cautious way so that all Member states can subscribe to it. The reference to this method will certainly be accompanied by an emphasis of the fact that the initiatives and groups of countries supporting them should remain open to everyone and that they should not undermine the EU’s or other member states’ interests.

Some Member States indeed fear to be side-lined by this method. A multi-speed EU is putting pressure on Member States who are worried to become “second-class members” if they do not participate to some key policies or projects.

Besides the choice of strategy, it will be important to determine what exactly the aim of this new method is, what Member States want to develop and bring in terms of results for the citizens. Leaders will still need to decide how they will proceed, in which area they want to move forward and will to have think about how this will affect EU’s institutional framework.

Patrick BijsmansAssistant Professor in European Studies, Department of Political Science, Maastricht University

Indeed, since quite some time different forms and speeds of cooperation and integration have been present in the EU. The best examples are, of course, the Euro and Schengen. Since the Amsterdam Treaty forms of flexible or enhanced cooperation have also been made possible in other areas (e.g. ongoing discussions about a financial transaction tax). As such, the document presented by the Commission contains nothing new. What could be considered to be new is the clearer focus on a multi-speed Europe as a realistic future scenario. This is not a real surprise, considering the fact that with 28 (and very soon 27) member states it has become increasingly challenging to foster agreement in some policy areas (e.g. the distribution of refugees across member states). Also, some have suggested that we should go this way, also to allow for a kind of associate status for countries that are unlikely to ever join the EU (e.g. Ukraine). These are real pros of such an approach. However, a potential risk of a multi-speed EU could be that some current member states would be excluded from further integration. This would, indeed, create a group of secondary member states. But is this likely to happen? I don’t think that this will be the case. The treaties currently do, indeed, already allow for diversification, but only after specific criteria have been met. E.g. it may not discriminate against other member states. If the EU27 are able to agree on a multi-speed Europe, they will almost certainly also include certain safety measures.

Miguel Otero-Iglesias, Senior Analyst, Elcano Royal Institute

I think it is inevitable that the Eurozone countries integrate more. The economic and political logic is that you cannot have a monetary union without an economic, banking, fiscal and political union in the long term. The UK knows this and this is why it left.


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