Multi-speed EU and its neighborhood: Where is Moldova?

The European Union is at a crossroads that entails the adoption of historical decisions related to the existence of the European project. The UK’s exit from the EU became imminent even if it may imply costs both for those from the EU and those from the proximity. The attempts by the anti-European populist forces and by Russia to make use of any symptom revealing the disintegration of the EU and to multiply these are also imminent. That’s why the celebration of 60 year of the signing of the Rome Treaty (of March 25, 1957) represents the best opportunity for pragmatically pondering over the EU’s future.

Thus, the current European leaders are to decide if they want more Europe, less Europe or a Europe with more speeds. Evidently, none of these options cannot and should not be imposed and forced. Anyway, each of these implies costly or even fatal political decisions and sacrifices. The current European political configuration reveals fundamental discrepancies between the states form the old, Western Europe and the new Eastern Europe. The first, West-Europeans, who form the hard nucleus of the EU, favor the idea of multi-speed Europe. A part of the East-Europeans (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – Euractiv, March 2017) oppose such a scenario for the reason that preconditions could be set for the disintegration of the EU.

The way the Europeans propel the EU, before and after Brexit, will directly and immediately affect the southern and eastern European vicinity that is already affected by political crises and unstable regimes, insecurity and destabilization coordinated by Russia or the anti-European or pro-Eurasian populism. If more Europe is improbable and less Europe is dangerous, the multi-speed Europe seems the most realistic solution. The multi-speed principle is already applied in the EU and is visible in the neighborhood policy. New synergies for the European integration should be immediately identified, both in the relation of Brussels with the EU member states and in its relations with the European vicinity.

Most realistic scenario for EU

The EU’s largest four economies (Germany, France, Italy, and Spain), which impose themselves on the European agenda after Brexit, pronounced in favor of a multi-speed Europe. It is one of the five scenarios proposed recently by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in the document about the future of the EU until 2025 (European Commission, March 2017).

The first scenario formulated by Juncker envisions the continuation of the existing agendas (keeping of the status-quo), with emphasis on the implementation of the main reforms aimed at increasing the number of jobs, ensuring economic growth and democratic changes in the EU (more transparency, more active participation by national parliaments).

Choosing the second scenario would mean focusing by the EU only on the single market (less Europe). This means the abandonment of the non-commercial policies and, respectively, reduction in intra-European contacts, others than the commercial ones.

The third scenario envisions that the EU member states interested in more Europe would take part in common initiatives (“benevolent coalitions”), without depending on others or the rest. Such a scenario is realistic because it is already allowed by the EU treaties (extended cooperation). Consequently, for the interested countries, the opportunity of extending the cooperation and integrating inside the EU already (at the level of exchange of information, interaction between police and judges, transport, etc.) remains open.

According to the fourth scenario, the EU will coordinate fewer actions that are yet carried out more efficiently. This time they also speak about less Europe, as in the case of the second scenario.

The last scenario is the most ambition one. Under this, the member states entrust more powers and decisional capacity to Brussels. For such a scenario to take place, the EU treaties should be modified, but this cannot be done in the light of the electoral year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, and the active manifestation of Euro-skeptical populism. The constant opposition of the Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic) to any move towards the federalization of the EU is an additional obstacle.

Why is multi-speed Europe needed?

The democratic processes inside the EU and the recent crises that tested the European solidarity show that the enlargement of the EU (in 2004 and 2007) wasn’t really effective and efficient. The selective approach of the East-Europeans to the values (rule of law, human rights) and the European policies (asylum and migration), in particular the open boycotting of the principle of solidarity, speak most about this. At the same time, the democratic regression in Hungary and Poland impose issues related to the efficiency of post-entry democratization of the political regimes of “new Europe”. The non-solving of this problem does nothing else but contributes to the spread of non-democratic practices in the rest of the countries, including in those that form the nucleus of the EU.

It is proved that the EU institutions meet with difficulties or even fail when they want to discipline particular members and remedy the situation in specific areas, including because of the Europe-skeptical opposition. That’s why, through the agency of multi-speed Europe, they attempt to reinvent the EU from inside and with the participation of Euro-optimistic political forces. New examples of success in integration between the member states would fuel Euro-optimism and would stimulate confidence in the EU. Also, multi-speed Europe would launch broad repairs in the European constructions, which is internal synergies that will be propagated in time on the other member states that, for different reasons, put up opposition (Euro-skeptics). In general, the member states can do this now already. That’s why the adjusted version of multi-speed Europe would mean that the European institutions squire a more active role or even a coordination role. Nothing of this should envision the modification of EU treaties.

Evidently, Poland and Hungary are the main opponents of the idea of multi-speed Europe. The erosion of democratic institutions in these countries is the most visible. These countries do not want to reduce the discrepancy existing in relation to the West-Europeans. The consolidation of the political forces that prefer to impose their will and to reject the compromises, to the detriment of the public interest and in contradiction with the EU principles (rule of law, human rights) is the main cause. However, Poland, Hungary and other Central-European member states with Euro-skeptical views are already part of the Schengen Area, which is one of the basic speeds of the EU.

Romania and Bulgaria are the most vulnerable members of the EU because they do not form part of the main speeds of the EU – Eurozone and Schengen. Unlike these, Ireland, Cyprus or the Visegrad countries use the euro and/or are part of the Schengen Area. Even so, the perception that Romania and Bulgaria are outside any speeds is mistaken. With the accession to the EU, a European rapprochement and European integration process starts and this process is supported by structural and cohesion funds. Entrance into other speeds (Eurozone, Schengen) is in strict correlation with the fulfillment of the technical conditions, but also depends on the will and quality of the political elites and of the national democratic institutions.

Multi-speed Europe and Eastern neighborhood of EU

The multi-speed Europe is no way an ideal scenario, but this is necessary in a situation when overlapping crises are experienced, when more Europe is impossible, while less Europe is dangerous. The deepening of the existing speeds, in particular of the Eurozone, would allow strengthening the foundations of the EU. The European project should be fixed on each of the speeds. The development of the Monetary Union and finalization of mechanisms of suspension for the Schengen Area form part of such efforts. Also, multi-speed Europe would stimulate the initiation of cooperation in defense or other areas that need urgent intervention.

At the same time, multi-speed Europe cannot have negative effects on the European neighborhood because the EU prerogatives here are closely related to the consensus of the national governments of the EU. However, the EU countries can create groups of friends for the neighboring states, as Romania and France did in the case of Moldova in 2010.

The multi-speed principle equally reflects the relationship between the EU and its proximity. Thus, the southern neighborhood always benefitted from lesser attention than the Eastern neighborhood, while the Union for the Mediterranean is an amorphous organization compared with the Eastern Partnership, where some of the countries agreed to transpose the European legislation (countries that signed Association Agreements with the EU. So, the countries of the European neighborhood developed distinct relations with the EU, depending on the political priorities and individual geopolitical particularizes. The “differentiation” principle applied to the neighbors of the EU was underlined in the New European Neighborhood Policy that was published in November 2015 (IPN, November 2015). Thus, the countries from the neighborhood are not forced to have identical dialogues with the EU, but result from the nature of national interests when they decide the profoundness level of the partnership with the EU. This flexibility creates opportunities to all the countries, both those that have European aspirations (Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia) and those who want only sector cooperation (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus).

Ultimately, the distinct speeds in the European neighborhood, as those inside the EU, underline how the diversity of the member states influence the internal and external policies of the EU. Both inside the EU and its neighborhood, the multi speeds are not imposed. They derive from the decisions adopted unilaterally by the national governments. Otherwise, Moldova, Ukraine or Georgia wouldn’t have signed Association Agreements with the EU, especially given the enormous pressure exerted constantly by Russia.

Instead of conclusion…

Each country is able to switch over to a more advanced European integration level. If they don’t do it, this is because of the Euro-skeptical elites or because they cannot meet the criteria (technical, political economic, etc.) owing to the failures of the political class.

Seldom, the advancing to a higher speed both inside the EU and in its vicinity depend strictly on the decisions adopted in Brussels. Most of the times, national decision makers from Budapest, Warsaw, Paris or Berlin, and even from London before Brexit, intervene.

In the European neighborhood, besides the national governments, the Russian factor also intervenes.

Even in such situations, the EU took sides with the EaP states and respects their sovereign right to have their own foreign policy.

Multi-speed Europe always existed, but it never hampered the functioning of the EU. Any internal integration is beneficial rather than destructive. If something stops working, this will be because of self-isolation and egocentrism of the political regimes

The same is true about the European neighborhood. Both the Republic of Moldova and other countries benefitted from the multi-speed principle applied by the EU in its neighborhood. However, the advancing of the dialogue with the EU, stagnation or lack of progress depend first of all on internal performance and the own political decisions. It is yet essential for Brussels to show determination and principledness both in case of Europe and its neighborhood with multi speeds.

The article was initially published IPN News Agency (March 13, 2017)

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