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German DiCE Regional Assembly

Wilhelm Gunkel / Unsplash
Wilhelm Gunkel / Unsplash

What do regional and local governments think of differentiated integration? Academics and German local representatives discussed the research findings of the Horizon 2020 DiCE Network Projects "EU IDEA" and "InDivEU".

Differentiated integration is a complex concept. Although it affects the everyday lives of EU citizens, its meaning is often unknown. Differentiated integration occurs when EU Member States do not have the same rights and obligations arising from their membership. It refers to a process in which member states choose different speeds and/or move towards different goals. This can be joined in part by non-EU members. The Eurozone and the Schengen area are prime examples of differentiated integration.

According to Dr Paolo Chiocchetti, researcher in the Horizon 2020 project InDivEU, the most likely trends of differentiated integration seem to be towards a moderate increase in integration and a stable level of differentiation. However, this could change rapidly due to external and internal shocks, such as the armed conflict in Ukraine and the resulting economic crises.

Differentiated integration taking place between states is the most important form of differentiation, but not the only one. Sub-national authority networks, such as Eurocities, embody a particular form. Dr Piero Tortola, researcher of the Horizon 2020 project EU IDEA, argued that more effort needs to be made to reach out to underrepresented smaller and/or local authorities from new Member States. This could make networks more inclusive and promote synergies.

Another focus of the debate was the advantages and disadvantages of differentiated integration in light of the current war between Russia and Ukraine and the associated "change of times". Central concerns were a lack of transparency and legitimacy as well as a "second-class" integration status. From a citizen perspective, differentiated integration is potentially critical due to the increasing complexity of the EU. The concept is not a panacea, but a useful tool for cooperation between member states. It should not be an option when it comes to the rule of law and democratic principles.

The German DiCE Regional Assembly was part of a series of events and was organised by the IEP in cooperation with the Trans European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA). Researchers from the Horizon 2020 DiCE network projects EU IDEA and InDivEU presented their findings on subnational authority networks and differentiated cooperation as well as future scenarios for differentiated integration.

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About the EU IDEA – Integration and Differentiation for Effectiveness and Accountability project: EU IDEA’s key goal is to address whether, how much and what form of differentiation is not only compatible with, but is also conducive to a more effective, cohesive and democratic EU. The basic claim of the project is that differentiation is not only necessary but also desirable.

Image copyright: Wilhelm Gunkel / Unsplash