Multi-speed Europe is a warning, EU official says
By Eszter Zalan
The possibility of a multi-speed Europe should not be an objective, but a warning to all of Europe, a senior EU official said on Tuesday (7 March) as EU leaders gather in Brussels to discuss which way the bloc should be headed after the UK leaves.
Twenty-seven EU leaders will gather on the second day of the EU summit on Friday (10 March) to prepare the message for the Rome summit later this month, aimed at commemorating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Rome Treaty which gave birth to European integration.
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Germany, France, Italy and Spain have endorsed the idea of multi-speed Europe, in which some countries could forge ahead with deeper integration, even if others do not want to follow suit. A similar Benelux paper has been circulated at the Malta summit in early February.
But some Nordic and eastern European countries are wary of making multi-speed Europe an official policy of the EU after Brexit, fearing it could lead to disintegration of the bloc or disadvantages for them.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker came out last week with a white paper, which spelled out 5 possible scenarios for the EU's future, one of them being a multi-speed Europe.
While member states have already had the opportunity to move closer together on various areas where others don't want to, under the so-called enhanced cooperation scheme, further economic and political integration has always been the core driving narrative of the EU.
However, a senior EU official said the Rome summit should not be about that, but rather a display of unity among the 27 member states.
"After Brexit, Rome should be not a message of disunity, but the unity of 27," he told journalists.
The official acknowledged that the final decision rests with leaders but argued "if in Rome a new baby is to be born of the 27, the name of it should be Unity, not Multi-speed"
"Multi-speed should not be seen as an objective, but it is a warning ... It is a warning to all of us," he added, referring to possible disintegration.
But this view is bound to clash with the EU's founding members' efforts to integrate more deeply, and have a reference to that in the Rome declaration.
With elections coming up this year in three of them, the Netherlands, France and Germany, they feel time is running out amidst rising populism and nationalism.
"This is the moment to say we want to go ahead with a different method of integration," an EU diplomat told EUobserver.
A typical EU-type solution could be to have a reference to the possibility of member states integrating further, while providing safeguards to other countries so that it won't be detrimental to them.
The Rome meeting is being prepared by EU commission president Juncker, European Council president Donald Tusk, Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni, and Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
No document on the future of Europe is expected to emerge from the meeting of 27 EU leaders on Friday.
The Rome declaration itself is also expected to be short, much like the Berlin Declaration that marked the 50th anniversary of the the Treaty of Rome in 2007.