November 2, 2017

The Prospects of a “Flexible Union”

Dr. Pauli Järvenpää, Senior Research Fellow at the ICDS, participated in a Roundtable on The Baltic Region and the Prospects of a “Flexible Union” in Foreign Policy, Security and Economic Cooperation, held on 2 November 2017 in Vilnius.

The Roundtable was convened by European Council on Foreign Relations, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and Kaunas University of Technology.

The Roundtable started with the observation that the idea of a “Flexible Union” is increasingly considered as a solution to the EU’s multiple crises, rather than a dangerous formula which could lead to Europe’s fragmentation. There is an emerging political consensus across Europe on the need for more flexible forms of cooperation. For example, in early March 2017, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented a white paper with five options for EU-27 cooperation after Brexit, including one of greater flexibility. The debate was further carried on by the strong endorsement of a multi-speed Europe by the new French President Emmanuel Macron as well as Mr. Juncker’s remarks on a possible “sixth scenario” not yet discussed in his white paper.

The issue of just how much flexibility is needed, in which domains and under what arrangements, goes far beyond a simple analysis of costs and benefits. For all European countries, this is a question with geopolitical implications. Therefore, there is a demand for a clear understanding of how the frameworks of, for example, cooperation on security and defence issues might complement each other instead of being in each other’s way. At the end, the member states may have to strike a delicate balance between the pragmatic use of flexibility and the maintenance of the current frameworks. In other words, as Europe’s growing differentiation in various areas is already underway, the question is not so much about being “for” or “against” a flexible union, but rather about making flexibility work for everyone.