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integration 02/23


Differentiated integration as a chance for the future of the EU? The special issue 2/2023 of the “integration” is dedicated to this approach from different perspectives.

The European Union (EU) is already a “system of differentiated integration”. There the differentiated integration fulfils different functions: It enables new member states to join the EU without immediately participating in all the policies and thus gives them time to adapt to the new conditions in the EU. Above all, it allows building consensus.

Projects of the EU can be realized even when some member states have reservations. In that sense, differentiated integration has potential that can be used for possible enlargements and the development towards an EU-30+.

All essays in the special issue of the “integration” are dedicated to differentiated integration. The development of differentiated integration in the European integration process, the potential for the future of the EU and the role of differentiated integration for the European public, governments and parliaments are discussed.

The relation between the EU and the States of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is examined as a case study for external differentiated integration. The forum post is dedicated to the European Political Community (EPC), another case of external differentiated integration.

The literature review deals with the effects of European law on the basis of the recently published books by Christian Joerges and Armin von Bogdandy.

The analyses of this issue are based on the research results of the three projects funded within the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Commission: Integrating Diversity in the European Union (InDivEU), Integration and Differentiation for Effectiveness and Accountability (EUIDEA), EU Differentiation, Dominance and Democracy (EU3D).

Differentiated integration and the future of the European Union: consolidation, crises and enlargement

Frank Schimmelfennig und Funda Tekin

Differentiated integration is a central feature of the European Union (EU). This article starts with an analysis of current developments in differentiated integration. We observe a trend of consolidation thanks to Brexit, the expiration of exemptions from Eastern enlargement, and the absence of new treaty changes and accessions. We further argue that the recent crises of the EU did not lend them-selves to differentiated solutions because they affected highly integrated policies and constitutional and redistributive conflicts. We discuss the EU’s enlargement as an important driver of differentiation and argue in view of past trends and the current reform proposals that so far, no comprehensive model of differentiated membership is at the horizon and hence the current plans for enlargement are likely to increase temporary differentiation and demand institutional reforms.

Differentiated integration from the perspective of the public: a controversial choice

Thomas Winzen

This contribution discusses how the populations of the member states of the European Union (EU) view differentiated integration. I argue that public opinion is not generally positive, negative, or indifferent. Instead, three factors are decisive for the patterns of public support and opposition: the general attitudes of the populations and party elites, the benefits from and voluntary nature of specific proposals for differentiated integration for the affected countries, and the strength and salience of negative externalities for other member states. These factors suggest that proposals for differentiation in some important policy issues – f. ex. strengthening fiscal solidarity – would lead to significant controversies within and between the populations of the member states.

Differentiated integration – (not) an issue in the political discourse of the member states?

Stefan Telle

Recent political science research has shown the increasing differentiation of the European Union (EU) and it has worked out the associated opportunities and risks for effective and legitimate politics in the EU. This raises the question to what extent politicians in the member states pay attention to differentiated integration. Based on an analysis of official government documents and parliamentary minutes from 25 member states, this article shows that this form of integration was rarely politicized in national politics between 2004 and 2020. In national parliaments, it was mainly discussed around EU-treaty changes (around 2008), the euro crisis (around 2012) or during the debate on the future of Europe (around 2017). The final part of the paper shows that differentiated integration is discussed more frequently and more positively in French politics than in German politics.

Only symbolic politics? Constitutional differentiation and reintegration of core state powers

Philipp Genschel, Markus Jachtenfuchs, Marta Migliorati

Constitutional differentiation is often assumed to match perfectly with reality. We argue, however, that this is often not the case in core state powers. Constitutional differentiation often does not lead to the exclusion of the non-integrated member states (“outs”) from the policies of the integrated member states (“ins”) but to their reintegration by different means. We present a cost-benefit-model which argues that both “outs” and “ins” often have strong functional and political incentives to seek reintegration after an earlier decision for differentiation because the costs of exclusion are too high. We use a novel dataset of reintegration opportunities to map trends and patterns of reintegration across policy fields, reintegration instruments and member states in core state powers. We conclude by arguing that reintegration is a frequent but fragile phenomenon through which “ins” and “outs” cope with the costs of exclusion.

The EFTA States and their (un)complicated relations with the European Union

Christian Frommelt

On 1 January 1994 – almost 30 years ago – the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) entered into force. Its purpose is to create a homogeneous and dynamic economic area between the Member States of the European Union (EU) and the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. Today, the EEA Agreement is still the most far-reaching and institutionalised agreement between the EU and non-member states and can therefore be seen as a benchmark for a privileged partnership with the EU. This paper describes how the institutional rules of the EEA and the level of integration of the EEA/EFTA states have changed over time. It shows that developments towards both more integration and more differentiation can be observed in the EEA. It thus addresses various institutional challenges in the relationship between the EU and associated states.

The European political community: multilateral coordination and differentiated integration in “Wider Europe”

Barbara Lippert

The founding of the European Political Community (EPC) was motivated by both geopolitics and integration policy. This article examines this new format from the perspective of summit diplomacy and as a sub-case of (external) differentiated integration in the Wider Europe. The first meeting of 44 heads of state and government in October 2022 was a demonstration of (geo-)political unity against Russia, which is waging a war of aggression on Ukraine and destroying the European security order. Participating states might also find it useful in the future to exchange views on the reordering of Europe in this high-level political forum. In contrast, it is unclear what added value the EPC can develop with regard to preparing the current ten (potential) candidate countries for membership in the European Union (EU). Moreover, the EPC has revived the political debate on partial and gradual integration and partial or staged membership. Still missing is a strategic positioning of the EU on how to deal with the nexus of its reform, enlargement and geopolitical role.

Team & authors

About the integration project: The quarterly journal "integration" is a theory-driven and policy-related interdisciplinary forum for fundamental questions of European integration. Contemporary issues in European politics are discussed from a political and academic perspective.

ISSN/ISBN: 0720-5120
Image copyright: IEP