The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain met on Monday to endorse a proposal from the European Commission to allow countries in the EU to integrate at different speeds.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe must accept “that some countries go ahead and can make progress a little faster than others.”
Her Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni, similarly argued that European Union could see “different levels of integration”.
Their governments had earlier supported the notion. France and Spain were seen as reluctant. They worry that a multispeed Europe could give way to looser cooperation altogether.
François Hollande, the outgoing French president, cautiously endorsed the notion of “differentiated cooperations” while Mariano Rajoy said Spain was ready to go further even if other countries lag behind. “Our countries must make choices,” he said. “Because without choices, we will undermine the EU.”
The European Commission laid out five possible futures for the EU last week, ranging from muddling through to closer integration.
I argued at the time that countries were likely to split the difference.
Few member states are interested in reducing the EU to a free-trade zone.
But few are also eager to take steps toward federation, especially in new member states like Hungary and Poland.
Southern nations, like France and Spain, don’t want the EU to abandon cultural and social programs.
That leaves a multispeed Europe as the logical choice.
The challenge for the big four is making sure that a multispeed Europe doesn’t morph into a two-speed Europe.
If integration at different speeds leads only to a tighter eurozone core, as opposed to flexibility, that would exacerbate Euroskepticism in countries like Finland and the Netherlands while leaving non-euro states, like Poland and Sweden, feeling like second-class members.