Prof. Dr Eckart Stratenschulte, Director of the European Academy Berlin
Europe of different speeds already exists
Every EU member state has to come to its decision where to position itself
17 March, 2017
Close-up: Professor Dr. Eckart D. Stratenschulte studied sociology, political science and German literature in Marburg, where he also received his Ph.D. In 1978 he became lecturer and later Director of the Institute for Inter-European Studies in Berlin. From 1989 to 1993 he worked as head of unit in the Governing Mayor’s office. Since 1993, Prof. Dr. Eckart D. Stratenschulte is the director of the European Academy Berlin and teaches Political Science at Berlin’s biggest university, the Free University Berlin. He has been involved in a couple of projects with civil society institutions and the Diplomatic Institute in Bulgaria. The expressed views in the interview are only his own.
- Prof. Stratenschulte, doesn’t the admission that EU Member States are developing with different speeds come a bit late, almost stating the obvious at this point?
- For a long time the EU was following the concept of different speeds. This means: we all have the same goal but we do not reach it at the same time. Take the Euro or Schengen as examples. The treaty says: The Euro is the currency of the EU. But there are additional criteria you have to meet before you can become a member of the Eurozone. Therefore, 19 out of 28 countries are members, 9 are not. The same goes with Schengen. Bulgaria is not yet a Schengen member, but it will be. But de facto you can see from these examples that not all countries are following this line. Great Britain and Denmark negotiated an opt-out clause for the Euro area, Sweden did not, but behaves as if it also were exempted. Some other countries (like Poland or the Czech Republic) just don’t care and don’t do anything to make the country part of the currency union. So, as a matter of fact, we already have a Europe of concentric circles, but many people thought that these were just exceptions. In the meantime it turned out that we no longer agree on the goals. Therefore concentric circles - an inner circle with more integration than an outer circle - is the only solution.
The European Commission just published a White Paper with five suggestions for the further development of the EU, one of them is a Europe of concentric circles. It is “Scenario 3: Those who want more, do more”. In a speech introducing the White Paper (in Louvain-la-Neuve on February 23, 2017), the President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker made quite clear that this is the way he prefers the Union to develop under the circumstances given.
- Faster or slower - but what is the end goal?
- Some countries think they only need the Single Market - and even that with exceptions - others want to use the EU for tackling the problems of the 21st century - from globalisation over environmental protection to fighting poverty, regulating migration and combatting terrorism. The basic line is clear: As much integration and shared sovereignty as necessary, as much diversity and national singularity as possible. The disagreement lies in the question, how much is necessary and how much is possible. So, we, the EU-27, for sure do not have a final common goal. But can there be a final common goal? The EU responds to political, economic and historical events and has to stay flexible. At least now, with Juncker’s White Paper, the discussion has been opened. In the meantime, the Visegrad Group came up with a joint paper saying they want less power of “Brussels” but more money from there. On 6 March, Francois Hollande invited Germany, Italy and Spain to a “mini summit” to formulate a joint position - and this will not be the end. Other country groups will come up with suggestions and ideas.
- In Versailles the Big Four already ruled for a multi-speed Europe. Does this mean that the EU future was decided and this did not happen in Brusssels, so any more debates are unnecessary?
- It is obvious that the EU cannot do business as usual because this would be the road to paralysis. Therefore, different models for the future shape of the Union are under discussion. Jean-Claude Juncker opened the debate with his White Paper and now different groups within the EU respond to it. The "mini summit" in Versailles stands for one of these groupings. Another one is the Visegrad Four having already published a paper on the same topic. On 25 March, when the heads of state and government will meet in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, there will be more papers on the table.
The interesting thing about the mini summit in Versailles is not that Germany and France are trying to find common ground, but that Francois Hollande has also invited Spain and Italy. Beside the fact that these are big countries within the EU, in addition, Hollande wants to gain strength with two partners whom he considers to be potential political allies (e.g. in the Euro question). But for sure Germany will also look for joint perspectives with other countries in the Union.
Be it Visegrad or Versailles, an expected statement from the Baltic or the Nordic countries or maybe a paper from the Benelux states - these are all contributions to the debate. Decisions about the future of Europe will not be made in Versailles or in Visegrad, but not in Brussels either. Decisions will be taken in the Member States and hopefully after an intense discourse also within their civil societies. Every country has to come to its decision where to position itself for the next decades, outside the EU like Great Britain, at the margin like Poland or in the centre like Germany and France - (in the case of France only, of course, if Marine Le Pen will not win the presidential election). If she were to win, all cards would have to be reshuffled.
- Isn’t the Eurozone effectively playing the role of an inner circle, a core of the EU even today?
- Yes and no. The Eurozone is already a kind of a core Europe, many decisions are made in this circle. On the other hand, the Eurozone itself is fragmented in strong countries like Germany or the Netherlands and weak countries like Greece and Portugal. So, de facto there is an inner circle within the inner circle.
- Did the refugee crisis expose EU solidarity for an empty slogan, dispelling any illusions to the contrary?
- The Visegrad countries came up with the slogan of “flexible solidarity” which in fact is the exact opposite of solidarity. Solidarity means that all partners engage themselves fully to resolve a problem. A small partner contributes a small piece, a big partner a big one - but both of them 100 per cent. In the refugee crisis some countries think they are better off if they follow their national way of response, which in fact means shifting the solution of the problem to the neighbours. This made the problem unsolvable by now -at the expense of many refugees who are still waiting in provisionary camps how their destiny will unfold. This non-solidarity causes a rift between EU partners. The news is not that the EU countries are arguing with each other. That would be business as usual. But this time they do not negotiate to finally find a solution, but some countries do not even try to find a compromise. This will influence the debate about the future structure of the EU. And it will for sure play a role when the discussion about the next Multi Annual Financial Framework will be started. Nobody wants to use this as a threat at the moment, but I cannot imagine that countries will receive a lot of solidarity in the form of structural funds money while retaining any solidarity in other questions. If there will be a core European Union, a big chunk of the money will go to this core. Interestingly enough the Visegrad countries see that danger clearly but don’t present any solutions - except the demand not to change anything.
- Why have populist parties in Europe gathered such momentum, to the point where they seem on the verge of reshaping Europe’s political landscape?
- The EU represents a rational choice for shaping the future, but the populists sell emotions (hate against others, but also nostalgia and the illusion of an easy world in which you can eat your cake and have it at the same time) and promise simple answers for complicated questions. This is attractive for many people, in particular for those who feel left behind and got the feeling the economy is doing well or even better without them. The populist promise heaven on earth for their own nations, but as of now they haven’t delivered yet. And if they were in a position to deliver, as US President Donald Trump is now, it takes a couple of years until the results will be visible.
- The European Parliament has long been dominated by right-wing parties but their dialogue with the rest of the groups is growing increasingly challenging. Isn’t this another troubling sign?
- I would not say so. Between 20 and 30 per cent of the MEPs are completely or partly against the EU, this is quite unique. The other 70 per cent work like in any other parliament. There are conservatives, social democrats, socialists, liberals, greens. They agree and disagree, they argue, the fight for their positions - and finally they make a decision. So, I think the EP is not our problem.
- Where do you see Bulgaria, following the expected restart of the EU on 25 March in Rome?
- If there will be an EU of concentric circles, every country will have to decide to which group it wants to belong. The criterion will be how much integration it will accept and following that how much solidarity it will be willing to give. For Bulgaria this means like for every other country in the EU that it has to decide where its place is supposed to be, in the centre of the Union or at its margin. My guess is that Bulgaria wants to belong to the centre, the Bulgarians know quite well that the outskirts are less attractive than the core. From what I heard, Bulgaria is now preparing for the entry to the Eurozone. The reason behind this is mainly a political one, in particular since the country has already a stable currency, due to the Currency Board. As far as I can see it, Bulgaria wants to shape the future of the European Union and its future in it, which means it wants to be more than a recipient of other countries’ decisions. I hope I am right.
- In what ways does Donald Trump pose a threat to the EU?
- This is difficult to say because as of now we do not yet have a clear picture of Trump’s policy towards the European Union, maybe he does not have one himself. But one thing is for sure: Europe has to care more about its own affairs and about its role in the world. The times when the Americans pulled the hot chestnuts out of the fire for us are over. This is why the discussion about a European Defence Union gets started again. The European Council in June 2017 will have this topic on the agenda.
- What is your most pessimistic and most optimistic forecast for the future of the EU?
- If the Europeans get their act together, the EU of the future might have less members, two or three layers of integration, but more power and more willingness to do things together. This will make the EU also more attractive for partners. If, on the other hand, the EU gets lost in stagnation, it will lose its importance and with that the ability to decide on its own affairs. This could also lead to conflicts within Europe that we thought would be over for ever. Both scenarios are possible and everybody should be aware of that.