Conversations for the Future of Europe 5. Differentiated Integration

The last installment of this year’s Conversations on the Future of Europe addressed the question whether some of the European Union’s current problems could be alleviated, or indeed resolved, if the union shifted more towards differentiated integration. Under differentiated integration the traditional model of homogenous integration amongst member states is supplemented, and in some areas perhaps even replaced, by a more flexible approach in which subgroups of member states move ahead with policy coordination and integration whilst other states hold back.

Our first speaker, Prof. Frank Schimmelfennig (ETH Zurich) began his contribution by clearly laying out the conditions under which differentiated integration tends to occur successfully, helpfully distinguishing between supply- and demand factors. Amongst the latter, he listed increased heterogeneity of interests and values amongst member states (in terms of attitudes towards integration for example), whilst amongst the former he stressed the relevance of positive and negative externalities for would-be integrators and non-participants. After this precise analytic outline, he investigated the potential of differentiated integration as a strategy to resolve two of the most crisis-ridden and intractable current policy domains of the EU, namely monetary union and migration/asylum policies. His overall assessment was to sound a note of caution: whereas differentiated integration seems to work well in the process of integrating new member states, it seems less well placed where disputes amongst member states derive from substantive divergence amongst member states regarding questions of European solidarity and in areas of core state power.

Our second speaker, Prof. Sergio Fabbrini (LUISS Guido Carli, Rome) nicely supplemented Schimmelfennig’s targeted analysis with a broad-brush canvassing of different understandings of European integration which stressed, amongst other things, that there already is significant differentiated integration between states -most notably in the domains of core state power.  Drawing on the scholarly approach of comparative federalism (and specifically distancing himself from the reigning functionalist theories), Fabbrini’s main argument was that European integration of the intergovernmental variety has been visited by crises due to increasingly severe distributive conflicts and the rise of ‘sovereignism’ a new ideological force in the European constitutional condition. Faced with these challenges, Fabbrini argued, European politics requires the adoption of a new approach (A new “Grand Compromise”) that bridges the gap between the diverging intellectual currents. Finally, Fabbrini noted (after surveying some of the existing policy proposals), a distinctly problematic lack of investigating questions of agency (who should do what and how?).

Our commentator, Prof. Sandra Kröger (Exeter & EUI), responded to our speakers’ contributions in turn. First, she stressed a number of implicit assumptions underlying Schimmelfennig’s analysis (most notably the idea that further integration will have net benefits for all member states). Second, she inquired into how representative the two cases (EMU, migration) really are for the topic of differentiated integration overall. In regard to Fabbrini’s discourse, Kröger wondered, amongst other things, about the prospects of two-tiered EU membership, the dangers of domination of weaker members by more powerful ones, and the specific kind of flexibility that Fabbrini imagines in his ‘“Grand Compromise” approach.

When the discussion opened up for questions in the final part of the session, members of the audience raised such issues as the differentiated effect of differentiated integration (viz. the apparent difference in perceived acceptance of European integration amongst more hesitant states like Denmark and the UK), the normative and Prudential standards of success that underpinned both speakers’ evaluations, and the question whether the availability of differentiated integration as a policy tool by itself changes the structure of member state bargaining.

Tuesday 4 June 2019 – 13.00-14.30, Emeroteca, Badia Fiesolana

Discussant: Dr Sandra Kröger (EUI – RSCAS)

Speakers: Prof. Frank Schimmelfennig (ETH Zürich), Prof. Sergio Fabbrini (LUISS Guido Carli)

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