After the United Kingdom’s Brexit ballots were counted, the European Union establishment – from the Commission in Brussels, to the Presidency of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, to capitals throughout the bloc – predicted hysterical scenarios. One mantra called for “punishing” the UK to prevent other members from following its example. It also claimed that now more than ever, the push for deeper integration, an “ever-closer Union,” must accelerate.
Speeding up integration would mean further harmonization between and unification of the remaining 27 member states. The message to London was that access to the internal market would only be given if it accepted all of the EU’s rules within the so-called “acquis communautaire.” The stupid, hollow, populist argument that no “cherry-picking” would be allowed was again made, as it had been previously for Switzerland. However, those who use this term simply want to avoid healthy competition.
What was ignored was that for the continent, the UK market is extremely important. Excluding and punishing Britain would also punish the other EU economies. But it also appeared that several personalities at the head of the Commission were silently pleased by Brexit, because they believed that their power to integrate and regulate would increase.
The “Drohgebärden” (threatening gestures) toward London did not achieve their goal. Many now realize that the “ever-closer Union” does not improve cohesion. On the contrary, it strengthens the bloc’s centrifugal forces.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has now prepared a white paper that sets out five scenarios for the future of the EU. On the surface, it may seem like the Commission’s proposal of these various alternatives means it is abandoning its past dogma that there can be no step back from the integration process. Generally, we can be happy about this more open-minded approach, because it could start an open debate on the future of the Union.
Against that stands the term “multi-speed Europe,” which some are using to describe one of the alternatives Mr. Juncker’s white paper puts forth (“Those Who Want More Do More”). It suggests that countries which do not participate fully in the path of “deeper integration” (a regulatory path), would be excluded from certain advantages. Since no country wants to be considered “second-class,” such a multi-speed Europe would prevent regulatory exceptions and keep countries from adopting alternative regulations that better apply to their economic and social realities.
Mr. Juncker unconvincingly pleaded for fewer, more efficient, rules. Although we can only support that call, those of the scenarios he presents as attractive do not really reflect his claim that he wants such an outcome.
On March 6, the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain – the bloc’s four largest members, not counting the UK – met to prepare for the forthcoming EU summit in Rome. During the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a quite paternalistic manner, voiced her support for further integration via a multi-speed Europe.
This leads to the prospect of a Western European “core Europe” – essentially a Europe dominated by the four largest members – and a marginalized periphery. This worries smaller members, mainly the Nordic countries and the Visegrad Group of Central European states.
Cohesion will not be reached by deeper integration or a multi-speed Europe. Not following all of the acquis communautaire’s regulatory framework will not mean a slower path of development for Europe. In fact, it could be the opposite.
The best solution would be an “incomplete Union,” allowing exceptions and regulatory competition. This is possible, while maintaining the open internal market.
Prince Michael of Liechtenstein is Chairman of Industrie- and Finanzkontor Ets. as well as Founder and Chairman of Geopolitical Information Services AG (GIS) and he is president of the think tank ECAEF (European Centre of Austrian Economics Foundation), based in Vaduz. This comment was published by GIS.