Idea 1: Europe Beyond the Union - A Pragmatic Approach to Multiple Integrations

The Union performed the extraordinary task of transforming into a peaceful haven the continent that hosted the two bloodiest wars in the history of the world. But this past success is not enough to keep it alive today: it needs institutions that move at the same speed of the new, more subtle challenges of the 21st Century.

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Institutions – normatively conceived by German philosophers and pragmatically justified by British ones – define the structure of a society, shape social behaviours, and frame economic transactions. As such, they are “inflexible” by definition. And yet, such inflexibility has become the root of their failure, particularly in a century constantly reshaped by technological progress and innovation. Technological progress today shows an unprecedented path of acceleration, forcing States and International Organizations – including the European Union and its related institutions – to constantly mutate in order to adapt.

Because of this mutation, information (and thus power) is continuously and rapidly redistributed between old and new actors. This redistribution exposes institutions’ rigidity, and rigidity carries the risk of implosion. Still, complex, contemporary societies cannot afford for institutions to simply fade away, as they are in desperate need for more capability to govern such complexity. Instead, the good governance of complex, contemporary societies requires more “flexible” institutions, albeit the statement may sound like an oxymoron.

European institutions are, in fact, steeped in flexibility. And yet it is a flexibility that resembles ambiguity and must be rethought in order to efficiently govern a society “liquefied” by the fast pace of technological development.

The European Union is made of multiple agreements, such as the Euro, Schengen, and the Common Market. This patchwork of treaties has resulted in well-known “flexible geometries.” Yet most of these integrations are half-hearted, not serious, and contradictory. To be more effective, European institutions should focus on the value added by what they can provide thanks to the geometries already in place. Such an effort would concentrate resources in areas that are out of reach for Member States.

To do so, European institutions should reverse the current approach: fewer partnerships but with complete allocation of power and responsibility. These fuller integrations need also to be freely and wholly accepted by Member States, so that they transparently delegate their sovereignty on matters that will have become European authority. This would help avoid ambiguous “shared jurisdictions.”

This implies that, for instance, those States that freely decided to adhere to an area of free movement (what is now intended as SCHENGEN), would accept a single border, a single body of police that patrol it, a single code of law that regulates its crossing, the issuance of work permits for the area, and its asylum rights. Those States that freely decide to adhere to an area of free trade, would also accept that tax rates on corporations are similar across the entire area, so to avoid competition among states that leads to races to the bottom. If the people establish that only the European Union deals with climate change, then it should be only the EU to have a seat at the negotiations and to represent the interest of its Member States; and it should be the European Commission to fine enterprises that pollute over a quota or to award cities that keep emissions low. 

Stronger, fewer partnerships also imply the possibility to change – through predefined procedures and by paying pre-established costs – members if economic or political conditions make those partnerships not sustainable any longer. Members of such flexible partnerships should in fact also be able to break away through pre-established mechanisms which will be, of course, different and less costly according to the nature of the related policy (it would be probably particularly long and costly to leave a common defence framework).

The first step in ensuring Europe’s survival is, thus, more clarity and efficiency, less ambiguity and rhetoric.  

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