While the recent report of the European Investment Bank places a gloomy look for Europe’s economy due to the consequences of the crisis in Ukraine, new momentum has gained for a renewed dialogue for an expanded European Union. Written by French and German experts, the two countries’ governments are willing to create a new debate for a post-war Europe. But will it be feasible and let alone successful?
Many European politicians have been intrigued by the idea on how Europe will look like by 2030 and how the EU would be functioning with over 30 member states. While Macron called on a “multi-speed Europe” while Scholz has called upon instigation EU institutional reforms, by speeding up decision-making in the Council, where enlargement will not be the ultimate reason for reform, but serve as a point of reference. The Group of Twelve envisages a multi-layer EU, with four distinct circles defining what benefits and responsibilities member states, EFTA members, candidate and non-candidate countries will receive.
The European Political Community 2.0 will serve as the outmost layer of European integration, focusing on geopolitical convergence and bilateral agreements with the EU. Here, countries have the freedom but not the responsibility to align their economic and political interests with or without the EU. This can be beneficial when creating free trade agreements and tariff-free economic zones for maintaining the global economy. Next to this, what the experts call “associate membership” is similar to the EU-UK relationship, while not being determined by an “ever closer union” to which Prime Minister Cameron didn’t want his country to be determined by.
These two layers – open to any European country – envisage a possible step towards EU membership but is not a requirement for cooperation. Interestingly they also mention a “guest status” which can be open to countries in the Mediterranean and the Southern Neighborhood.
The inner circle if further defined as being full EU members and a core group of the coalition of the willing, such as members of the Eurozone. In addition, the Treaties enable enhanced cooperation with a minimum of 9 member states setting up advanced integration in a specific field. This can be a form of the European Defense Union. An EU with over 30 members will have a very different political power dynamic than that of today. A shift to Central Eastern Europe towards candidate countries will change the priorities, the economy, and ways of cooperating on various policy levels. New ideas never fall short of trying to reform the old continent. Making EU institutions ready for an enlarged membership is necessary, the question is who and in what sense will lose or gain decision-making power and influence over policies. Maintaining the current 751 seats of the European Parliament seems fair, however a Presidency quintet taking up half an institutional cycle is a different story. Speeding up the decision-making process by introducing qualified majority will be a sour-pill for new and small member states, which can have the side-effect of weakening their voice.
The European Union can be defined as a process constantly in flux and change. It will never arrive at a finishing point, but will be shaped by all its members, its citizens, and institutions. The Franco-German paper, while having a uniquely Western perspective, is only one of the many ideas circulating today. While the European Union is trying to find answers to maintain peace and security, which seems ever more distant for the future.