The need for a two-speed Europe has made its comeback at Monday’s Versailles summit (6 March), resurrecting tensions between the East and the West of the European Union. The idea of a possible multi-speed Europe is not entirely new and has once again gained traction as the old continent is trying to define its post-Brexit identity. The idea is popular among the old member states and a group of less integrated peripheral states but the EU’s newer members are looking at this development with suspicion.
“The Versailles summit does not look so good if you come from one of the small member states,” Hungarian MEP György Schöpflin commented at a debate organized by the Club Grande Europe in Paris one day after the summit. In Mr. Schöpflin’s opinion, if these countries “continue to push for a hard core in the EU, they will end up distancing the Central and Eastern European member states”.
The main point on the agenda of the summit was the future of the bloc after the Brexit. Despite some objections from Spain, the Eurozone’s biggest four countries seemed to more or less agree on the differentiated integration. “For a long time this idea of a differentiated Europe, with different speeds and different rates of integration, has provoked a lot of resistance. But today, it is a necessary idea. Otherwise, Europe will explode,” French President Hollande said.
A multi-speed Europe is one of the five possible options for the bloc’s future, as proposed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and it is the most popular option in Western Europe. “In general, I think it is important for countries to have informal debates,” said Petr Drulak, the Czech Republic’s former deputy foreign minister, but added that “any initiatives that come out of them must be open and other member states must be able to influence them.”