Policy brief

One size does not fit all: European integration by differentiation

The need for reform of the EU is increasingly urgent. The authors of this policy brief suggest a new governance model, combining a bare-bones EU with

Publishing date
19 September 2018

THE ISSUE

Reforming the governance of the European Union has become urgent for three reasons: to better deal with politically-sensitive topics, to manage greater external challenges and because future EU enlargement will increase the diversity of the bloc’s membership. The answer to disagreement typically has been qualified majority voting, but on sensitive topics, the EU has increasingly moved to unanimity and heavy European Council involvement, which has often not delivered results. The alternative answer has been a Europe of multiple speeds of integration with one shared goal for all, increasing political tensions. A different approach is now needed to move Europe forward.

POLICY CHALLENGE

Two options would be a Europe of concentric circles and a Europe of ‘clubs’, but the former would cement tensions between the inner and the outer circles, while the latter would lead to unclear structures and an end to cohesion. However, a governance model could combine the two approaches. The model would be based on a strong ‘bare-bones EU’ formed by the single market, trade and accompanying policies, the European institutions, treaties, rule of law and a commitment to fundamental EU values. Three policy areas would be completely moved into ‘clubs’ while remaining based on the bare-bones legal and institutional structure: economic and monetary union; Schengen and asylum policy; and foreign and security policy and neighbourhood policy. Club membership would be optional but once in, countries would have to accept the rules and there would be high hurdles to leaving. Finally, a ring of friends would surround the bare-bones EU, based on very close economic relationships and some multilateral discussion elements, but no formal votes.

About the authors

  • Jean Pisani-Ferry

    Jean Pisani-Ferry holds the Tommaso Padoa Schioppa chair of the European University Institute. He is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, the European think tank, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute (Washington DC). He is also a professor of economics with Sciences Po (Paris).

    He sits on the supervisory board of the French Caisse des Dépôts and serves as non-executive chair of I4CE, the French institute for climate economics.

    Pisani-Ferry served from 2013 to 2016 as Commissioner-General of France Stratégie, the ideas lab of the French government. In 2017, he contributed to Emmanuel Macron’s presidential bid as the Director of programme and ideas of his campaign. He was from 2005 to 2013 the Founding Director of Bruegel, the Brussels-based economic think tank that he had contributed to create. Beforehand, he was Executive President of the French PM’s Council of Economic Analysis (2001-2002), Senior Economic Adviser to the French Minister of Finance (1997-2000), and Director of CEPII, the French institute for international economics (1992-1997).

    Pisani-Ferry has taught at University Paris-Dauphine, École Polytechnique, École Centrale and the Free University of Brussels. His publications include numerous books and articles on economic policy and European policy issues. He has also been an active contributor to public debates with regular columns in Le Monde and for Project Syndicate.

  • André Sapir

    André Sapir, a Belgian citizen, is Senior Fellow at Bruegel. He is also University Professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Research Fellow of the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research.

    Between 1990 and 2004, he worked for the European Commission, first as Economic Advisor to the Director-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, and then as Principal Economic Advisor to President Prodi, also heading his Economic Advisory Group. In 2004, he published 'An Agenda for a Growing Europe', a report to the president of the Commission by a group of independent experts that is known as the Sapir report. After leaving the Commission, he first served as External Member of President Barroso’s Economic Advisory Group and then as Member of the General Board (and Chair of the Advisory Scientific Committee) of the European Systemic Risk Board based at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

    André has written extensively on European integration, international trade, and globalisation. He holds a PhD in economics from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he worked under the supervision of Béla Balassa. He was elected Member of the Academia Europaea and of the Royal Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts.

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff was the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister's Conseil d'Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

  • Thomas Wieser

    Thomas Wieser was President of the Euro Working Group and of the European Financial Committee of the European Union until February 2018. The role had been a full-time position since October 2011, following a decision to make it so by EU Heads of state. He previously chaired the Committee between March 2009 and March 2011.

    Before becoming President of the EWG/EFC, he was Director General for Economic Policy and Financial Markets in the Ministry of Finance, Vienna. There he was in charge of macro-economic policy, international and EU affairs, financial market legislation, and export credits and guarantees.

    He also has a strong academic background in Economics. After a degree in Economics (University of Innsbruck), he pursued post-graduate studies in theoretical and mathematical economics, and taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder (Fulbright scholarship) as well as the Institute of Advanced Studies, Vienna.

  • Maria Demertzis

    Maria Demertzis is the Deputy Director at Bruegel and part-time Professor of Economic Policy at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Florence. She has previously worked at the European Commission and the research department of the Dutch Central Bank. She has also held academic positions at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in the USA and the University of Strathclyde in the UK, from where she holds a PhD in economics. She has published extensively in international academic journals and contributed regular policy inputs to both the European Commission's and the Dutch Central Bank's policy outlets. She contributes regularly to national and international press.

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