The European Political Community: a step towards a differentiated integration in Europe?
The first meeting of the European Political Community – a new initiative bringing together both EU and non-EU states – will take place later today in Prague. Before the meeting, Stefan Ganzle, Tobias Hofelich and Uwe Wunderlich examine what the new community could mean for cooperation across Europe.
European integration is a dynamic and flexible process. While most of the attention has been focused on the EU, it is by no means limited to it. Indeed, it is useful to understand the EU as a set of very specific institutional links. There is considerable diversity here, with some states being part of certain institutional arrangements but not others. Differentiated integration has become a key feature of the European Union since the 1990s, both internally and externally.
Internally, it was the Treaty of Maastricht, which entered into force in 1993, which enabled Denmark and the United Kingdom, for example, to disassociate themselves from the Economic and Monetary Union and – in the case of Denmark – to join to the Common Foreign and Security Community of the EU. Policy. Basically, the door to deeper integration remains open: in light of Russia’s threat to European security following its invasion of Ukraine, the Danish electorate has decided to join foreign policy and Common Security in May this year.
Externally, the EU has become quite flexible in terms of including non-members, such as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, to be part of the single market and/or the Schengen regulatory scheme. In other words, European integration can best be described as a complex system of concentric circles. The core club is made up of tightly integrated EU members, surrounded by other states that have negotiated waivers in specific policy areas. The outer circles include countries willing to join the core club as well as states with specific arrangements and various neighborhood agreements involving European and non-European countries.
The European Political Community
European integration has always been a flexible, dynamic and evolving process. At a meeting of heads of state of the European Community in December 1989, the then French president, François Mitterrand, proposed the formation of a “European Confederation”. This was the first attempt to outline a ‘coherent’ EC/EU-centric project of external differentiation encompassing most of the countries of the European continent after the end of the Cold War.
In May this year, French President Emmanuel Macron, supported by Olaf Scholz, followed up on this idea by proposing the creation of a European Political Community (EPC). Once again, Europe is experiencing systemic shock waves that require a reorganization of institutional relations. The EPC, in a nutshell, seeks to create a club of European states which are, in principle, committed to democratic values - even if these standards are contested by some members, such as Hungary and Poland, and recent political turns, like those in Sweden and Italy.
Carefully avoiding the impression that EPC could be perceived as an alternative to membership, the initiative serves as a double stepping stone by allowing countries such as those in the Western Balkans, Ukraine and Moldova to complete their ambitions to membership while allowing others, particularly the UK and Switzerland, to reshape their relationship with their EU neighbors at a time when they have loosened their ties with the EU.
The EPC proposal, highly motivated by the upheavals caused by Brexit, the global pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the associated economic crises, could therefore emerge as a framework for political, economic and security cooperation. , binding European EU and non-EU states.
Differences between the CPE and the European Confederation
It is important to distinguish the current EPC proposal from Mitterrand’s earlier proposal for a confederation, despite the links between the two ideas. First, although there are some parallels, Europe faces a very different set of challenges compared to 1989. The confederation project presented by Mitterrand was primarily intended to support Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union. By contrast, current relations with Russia are strained and the CPE is, at least in part, designed as a response to Russian belligerence. Therefore, Russian participation is not planned.
Second, the European Confederation proposed the gradual integration of Central and Eastern European countries starting with policy areas that were perceived as unproblematic, such as research and higher education. The EPC is designed much more broadly and does not aim to bring participants into the core of the EU. In addition, EPC will also need to be synchronized with a well-established enlargement and accession policy.
It remains to be seen what form, if any, the EPC will actually take. Countries applying for EU membership fear that EPC will appear as a “detention space” for them, thus preventing full EU membership. Others, like the British government, are wary of any institutional development that would bring them closer to their neighbours. Given the considerable diversity of interests at stake, with 44 participating countries, ranging from EU members and candidate countries to Turkey and Britain, there is a real possibility that the proposal will either fail or be significantly watered down. .
That is to say, the summit can appear as a chat room: no statements will be issued and no money will be offered. However, given the multitude of common challenges faced by European leaders, a structure of informal summits can add value to the European institutional infrastructure, facilitating exchanges and, in the best of cases, leading to coordinated policy responses. Regardless of the outcome of the Prague meeting, EPC has the potential to become an indispensable institutional layer for European integration, normalizing differentiated integration.