Germany and France endorse multi-speed Europe
By Eric Maurice
Germany and France will push for a multi-speed EU, in which some countries integrate more deeply than others, at a summit in Rome later this month.
"We must find means to better take into account member states' different levels of ambitions so that Europe can better address the expectations of all European citizens," the countries' foreign affairs ministers said in a joint statement on Wednesday (1 March).
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Sigmar Gabriel and Jean-Marc Ayrault said that should be done "without calling into question all that we achieved."
The statement could be seen as a reassurance to countries with a lower "level of ambitions" that they will not lose the EU's benefits, as well as a warning to countries who would like to take back powers from EU institutions.
The EU "is founded on common values, solidarity and the rule of law," they added, in a reference to the most divisive issues between a core of member states and some countries such as those in the Visegrad group - Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Visegrad countries have refused to take asylum seekers and migrants despite EU demands for solidarity.
Hungary's leader Viktor Orban wants to build an "illiberal democracy" and the new government in Poland is under EU monitoring over constitutional violations.
At the end of the month, EU leaders - except British prime minister Theresa May - will meet in Rome to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the European Communities' founding treaty.
They will also publish a declaration outlining their vision for a post-Brexit EU.
The two ministers' call for a multi-speed Europe follows similar statements by their leaders, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, and indicates that the Rome declaration will set out that direction.
On Monday, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, also said that the EU needed to "go ahead with multi-speed Europe".
'Quo vadis Europa?'
Germany and France "are deeply attached to the success of this process," Gabriel and Ayrault said.
They were reacting to a White Paper on the future of Europe presented on Wednesday by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, ahead of the summit.
Juncker laid out five scenarios for the bloc after Britain's departure in 2019, from "carrying on" to "doing much more together", with "nothing but the single market", "those who want to do more fo more" and "doing less more efficiently" as intermediare scenarios.
“It is time we sought answers to a question as old as our union is young: ‘quo vadis Europa?'," Juncker told MEPs, using the latin version of "where are you going, Europe?".
“We need to move forward, we need to continue,", he said, adding that it was not up to him to decide which scenario to adopt.
Juncker's paper was "an important and valuable contribution to the larger discussion on the future of Europe, its project and its functioning," Gabriel and Ayrault said, in a referrence to the member states' desire to control the process.
'Much more than a single market'
They noted that "our best protection and our best asset for the future is a stronger European Union".
They said that the EU should focus on "reinforcing" Europe's role on the world stage; developing a European defence policy; "putting into place a stable and cooperative framework to address the migration issue"; "promoting the convergence" of European economies; "reinforcing" Europe's social market economy; and "progressing towards the completion" of monetary union.
With Brexit talks to be triggered this month, the EU wants to demonstrate that the process will not be its main task and that Britain's influence on the European project is already a thing of the past.
"However painful and regrettable Brexit may be, it will not stop the EU as it moves to the future," Juncker said on Wednesday.
"Europe is much more than a single market," the German and French ministers said in their statement, referring to a vision of Europe defended by the UK before it voted to leave the EU.