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After Macron, headed towards the Brexit: the EU begins to recover. Is it time for a multi-paced Europe?

Several observers agree that “the winds have changed” or, at least, that populisms seem to have loosed their grip on the “common home.” Moreover, problems of political unity remain unsolved. Again, there are those who are calling for a “multi-paced” EU, or for one marked by “variable geometries” based on the will to deepen integration. The Treaties envisage “strengthened cooperation”, reaffirmed in the recent Rome Declaration.  

Palazzo Berlaymont, a Bruxelles, sede della Commissione europea, ricorda il 60° dei Trattati di Roma

The winds have changed. Increasing signs show that feelings of malaise and scepticism are being overcome, after the many crises and after a period when it seemed that nationalistic, anti-European forces to the left and to the right of the political spectrum were going take over the EU under the banner of populism, causing its collapse. Renewed confidence is encouraged by a Union that stands united before the Brexit challenge, by the results of important elections (The Netherlands and France), by opinion polls in several Countries. Last but not least, by the will of increasing numbers of citizens to take to the streets to express their support for Europe’s unification.

Also the fact that a “multi-paced” Europe is again on the agenda is a significant sign that prompts hope in a new beginning for Europe.

The Declaration of the leaders of 27 Member States and of the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission gathered on March 25 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties, states: “We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past, in line with the Treaties and keeping the door open to those who want to join later. Our Union is undivided and indivisible.”
The idea that EU Member Countries – that are ready and possess the conditions – will continue along the path of integration, while waiting that other member Countries, initially left behind, join at a later stage, has been put on the agenda throughout the course of the history of integration whenever it became clear that there was an urgent need for a fundamental reform or a further development of European institutions, of procedures and policies, while acknowledging the fact that for whichever reason not all Member Countries would accept the necessary decisions.

EU Member Countries are the holders of the Treaties, they determine the EU’s shape and form along with its responsibilities.

When it comes to their right to determine the pace of the unification process, they are entitled to invoke their sovereignty. Such right is enshrined in the principle of unanimity underlying the voting procedures regarding Treaties and political issues of Treaties that do not fall all under Community competence and regulations.
 The matter at stake is the concept of the different paces linked to overcoming the rule of unanimity, which on far too many occasions caused standstills or thwarted the possibility of carrying out reforms that would spur further progress. Europe’s unification in the years after the Second World War was made possible as a result of this notion. In fact, the appeal of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on May 9 1950 calling for the establishment of a European Coal and Steel Community, under the banner of the reconciliation of former enemies in a war that had caused huge suffering to France and to the whole of Europe, was initially addressed to Germany, with the intention of involving also its neighbouring Countries. However, Germany’s adhesion was followed only by Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The result was a six-member Community, forerunners of today’s European Union, with its 28 Member Countries.

The initiative of pioneering member Countries made it possible to overcome stages of stagnation and put the unification process back on track.

Only rarely did it happen that all Member Countries were simultaneously ready to move on to ensure efficient unified political action, in the interest of further development in terms of a federal and democratic progress of the EU. Monetary union, which in its initial stage saw the adhesion of only 11 out of 19 Countries (1998), is a good example of the implementation of the “multi-paced” approach. Other Countries gradually joined in, and to date it counts 19 out of 28 Member Countries. Moreover, one of the risks of this process is that the coherence of the EU’s political and institutional system could be hindered if one or more members took a solitary leap forward. To avert this danger the Maastricht Treaty (1992)  enshrines the possibility of “strengthened cooperation” among a group of Member Countries under specific conditions, equally envisaged in the above-mentioned Rome Declaration, which ensures that avant-garde decisions be taken “in line with the Treaties” and “keeping the door open” to everyone.




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