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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 a concept that has been debated for years in European political circles, as a way to solve some institutional issues. It is currently possible for a minimum of eight EU member states to use enhanced co-operation, but this has not yet been used.


The reasons and actuality of the theory

European Free Trade Association Council of Europe Switzerland Albania Croatia Liechtenstein Iceland Norway Armenia Schengen Area European Economic Area Azerbaijan Bosnia and Herzegovina Austria Germany Malta Georgia (country) Belgium Slovenia Greece Netherlands Cyprus Eurozone Moldova European Union Finland Italy Portugal Spain Sweden Republic of Ireland Montenegro France Slovakia Luxembourg Lithuania Republic of Macedonia Poland Hungary Bulgaria Denmark Russian Federation Czech Republic Romania Latvia Estonia Serbia United Kingdom Ukraine European Union Customs Union Monaco Turkey San Marino Andorra Vatican City International status and usage of the euro#States with issuing rights
A clickable Euler diagram showing the relationships between various multinational European organisations.

This idea has been revived recently because of various events, such as

  • the Euro with 16 EU member-states and four more in ERM II on track to joining. All but two states (Denmark, United Kingdom) have agreed by treaty to join but at least one of those treaty signatories (Sweden) has made no further steps to do so.
  • the Schengen area Treaty leading to a common border for many EU states (it currently excludes Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom) but which includes three non-EU members - Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. It is often asserted that Ireland only reluctantly agreed to stay out of the treaty to avoid creating a physical border between the Republic and Northern Ireland because the UK had refused to sign.[1]
  • other initiatives limited to some states, such as the European Defence initiative.
  • the enlargement of the European Union to 27 member-states, with the prospect of accepting in the forthcoming years other candidates (Turkey and Iceland among others)
  • the Council of Europe, which has 47 member-states
  • the European Convention that lead to the treaty of the European Constitution that has been signed in 2004 by the 25 Heads of State, but was not ratified by all national parliaments or assemblies and so failed.
  • differences of view between EU members on some foreign diplomatic and military issues.

The argument is that, with more members and more diverse members in the Union, the more difficult it becomes to reach consensus on various topics, and the less likely it is that all would advance at the same pace in various fields (economical, social, fiscal, military, decision-making, etc.). This has led to the theory of a multi-speed Europe, both as a reflection of the state of nations entering the Union, the agreements shared, and the resulting progress. Similarly The Economist in a 2004 article compared the variances of Europe to a lake that has many deep parts (areas in which countries are similar) and many shallow parts (areas in which countries have major differences).[2]

Main multi-speed Europe models

There are two essential models of multi-speed Europe -- core Europe, and variable geometry Europe.

  • In the core Europe model, a group of EU members interested in further integration across the board establish a new organization within the union, to engage in further integration. This model can be described as a nucleus of members, for example among the six historic ones of the Treaty of Rome, with some others, wanting speedier integration, would create their own federal institutions, nested inside the supranational union that the whole union would continue to be. It can be worded as a "federation inside a confederation".
  • The variable geometry Europe model, by contrast, does not involve a single group of countries pushing ahead across the board, but rather multiple groups being established for different policy areas. For example, one group of countries may decide to integrate further in the area of taxation, another group may decide to integrate further in the area of defence, another in the area of a public prosecutor, etc. The advantage of this model is that it is easier to create agreement, since the core Europe model requires a single group of countries which are across the board interested in further integration, while the variable geometry model recognizes that countries have differing policy interests and concerns.

The core Europe model could be implemented by creating parallel institutions, for example a "European Federation" to exist alongside the "European Union", as a sort of inner core. Such an approach would not work for the variable geometry model, since not one set of parallel institutions would be needed, but rather one per a group. Rather, variable geometry would be approached through using the existing EU institutions, either via the use of the current closer co-operation provisions in the EU Treaties, or a future strengthening of those provisions (such as that proposed in the failed EU Constitution and then put forward into the Treaty of Lisbon).

De facto the European Union has already adopted the variable geometry model. Both the Euro and Schengen are policy areas in which some countries participate but not others, and in both cases some non-members participate as well. The variable geometry proposal, rather than being an entirely new direction, is really only a proposal that the EU should do more of what it is already doing. The one major difference is that at the moment, variable geometry occurs as a "special case", only for certain very major Treaty-level policy issues. The enhanced co-operation treaty provisions (which have been enacted - TEU articles 43-45, added by the Amsterdam Treaty and strengthened by the Treaty of Nice) are a means to normalize variable geometry and make it available to most policy areas. In this formalized process a minimum of eight member states may propose a plan with the established EU administration to refine the details and to finally take over the administrative responsibilities (if a new treaty requires more personnel then the enacting members need to provision for that). So in fact under enhanced co-operation the EU administration will act with two juridical powers - the one assigned globally for all EU members and the dedicated enhanced provisions for the participating states.

See also




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