Differentiated integration (DI) can correspond to a deliberate policy choice if it reflects the optimal solution to a given problem in a specific policy area given different national or local preferences. Two EU-IDEA policy papers investigate whether and to what extent this reflects European integration reality by examining the preferences of EU citizens and national policy makers in the EU, but also in non-EU member states. Based on two comprehensive data sets, three main conclusions emerged.
First, there is a lack of shared understanding of what differentiation actually is. This makes it difficult to communicate its benefits to the public in terms of the broader EU integration process. This can become particularly problematic when Eurosceptic political actors instrumentalise differentiation to protect their own national interests, while questioning the European project as a whole.
Second, DI is seen by political actors as a pragmatic and effective alternative for more European integration in some policy areas, but only if it offers each state the possibility to join at a later stage. DI is seen as a deliberate policy choice, especially in the areas of security, defence, and foreign policy.
Third, the datasets have shown that a tailored approach to each differentiated form of cooperation is inevitable in the relations between the EU and third countries.
Both policy papers are part of the EU IDEA Work Package “National Preferences on EU”, which is coordinated by the Institut für Europäische Politik. The EU-IDEA project is supported by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 funding program.