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The future of European Integration: Heading towards an EU of differentiated integration or a united EU?

A recent Visegrad Insight podcast interview reopens the topic of European integration and the future of Europe with Swedish's former diplomat Lars Danielsson and the editor-in-chief from VI, Wojciech Przybylski. 


Przybylski started the interview with a question about the EU enlargement process and its impact on governance, referencing Ukraine's recent accession talks with the EU amidst Russia's ongoing aggression in Ukraine. Instead of giving a direct answer, Danielsson stressed the pivotal role of "deepening and institutional reforms" in future EU governance. "Not acting or being adverse to change will only prevent us from influencing the subject," commented Danielssons. 


In Przybylski's second question, he demonstrated concerns regarding an 'EU35' where Ukraine and Kosovo eventually become member states. "[W]ill we need to develop the idea of a Europe operating at different speeds?" he asked. 


Essentially, Przybylski's question has a connotation of a 'differentiated integration', a theoretical concept that according to Frank Schimmelfennig, “refers to a situation in which the territorial extension of the legal validity of EU rules is incongruent with EU membership". In other words, differentiated integration could occur due to incompatibility, incompetence, or unwillingness to integrate from within the EU. Consequently, does the world need a differently integrated EU at the moment? 


A united Europe against 'the other.' 

Despite the already occurring process of differentiated integration within the EU, enlarging the EU is necessary. "The main reason right now is geopolitical," and "a key part of the security agenda is enlargement", commented Danielsson. 


According to the former diplomat, European security and values such as democracy, market economy, and a liberal Europe are threatened while acknowledging the pre-member states' reform capacities. Hence, the inevitable road to enlargement. From Danielsson's words, we could observe the dominance of a 'defensive realism', a security approach defined by Schimmelfennig that could trigger a collective balancing, in other words, the enlargement of the EU.  


Moreover, Danielsson also highlighted the recent victory of Donald Tusk, the current Polish Prime Minister, and his coalition, the Civic Platform, against the far-right Law and Justice Party. His victory demonstrated that democracy remains strong, and despite its previous rule of law issues with the EU, Poland could now be regarded as an example of good governance and compliance for other Central European countries, especially Hungary, as well as aspiring candidate countries. 


A NATO-EU alliance 

Regarding the Russian aggression in Ukraine, Danielsson argued that a 'NATO-EU alliance' is the key to security. The words of the diplomat have been confirmed by Sweden's newly acquired NATO membership as the organisation now encircles the Baltic Sea and could monitor cables and pipelines, enhancing NATO's geopolitical and economic capacities. In addition, He also advised more "unity" and inclusion in the EU. Mentioning Hungary's isolated status again, Danielsson claimed that Sweden shares more economic similarities with Hungary despite political differences on the rule of law and would like to still "want them inside the tent, not outside." 


The discussion has unfortunately exhibited the shifting of the EU's neoliberal mentality towards a defensive realist mentality. The EU no longer exists for exclusivity and economic benefits but as a collective security mechanism and a united political identity. On the other hand, perhaps being one collective security entity is an effective method to introduce solidarity and inclusion within and outside the EU, showing a more tolerant attitude toward differentiated integration. 


Edited By: Josh Reidelbach

Image: European Parliament from Wikimedia

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