Is differentiated integration democratic? Take stock of the points of view of political party actors
Differentiated integration has become an important feature of the European integration process, but are there potential democratic pitfalls that accompany some EU Member States which pursue closer cooperation than others? Sandra Kröger, Marta Lorimer and Richard bellamy present the results of a new study assessing the views of political party actors in seven EU Member States.
Differentiated integration is often seen as a pragmatic way to take account of political and economic differences between EU Member States. By allowing some Member States to go further in integration while others lag behind, differentiated integration allows European integration to continue even when not all Member States want to join a European Union. politics, or when some of them can’t.
Whereas it already existed at the very beginning of the EU, this approach has become an increasingly important aspect of European integration. The Eurozone, Schengen and the recently created European Public Prosecutor’s Office are among the best known examples and have been welcomed as means for the EU to respond to the growing heterogeneity of preferences and capabilities.
However, academics have questioned the democratic legitimacy of differentiated integration. They suggested that this could undermine the principle of political equality and generate domination. Domination entails the ability of an agent or agency to impose or arbitrarily influence one or more other agent (s) or agency (s) to do their will, without having to consider the reasons and interests of dominated.
Differentiated integration and democracy
In one recent study we are investigating the democratic references of differentiated integration. Drawing inspiration from interviews with political party actors in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Portugal and Romania, we address two questions: do political party actors think that integration differentiated creates dominance and how do they consider its dominating potential to be mitigated?
We believe that differentiated integration can undermine political equality in several ways. Differentiated integration of sovereignty, which allows member states to withdraw from unwanted integration, for example, may lead a member state to still be affected by an EU policy that they have no say in determining.
Integration differentiated by capacity, which exempts a Member State from adhering to a policy because it is unable to comply with its requirements, may lead a Member State to be excluded from a policy against its will.
To finish, enhanced cooperation, a form of differentiated integration that allows a “ coalition of the willing ” of at least nine member states to integrate further, can generate dominance if used to bypass the objections of those who don’t think so. ‘It is appropriate that European integration continues in a certain area.
The point of view of political party actors
Our empirical results paint a mixed picture of the assessment by political parties of domination in differentiated integration. While most of those interviewed believed that it did not create domination, several feared that it would become a source of arbitrary exclusion.
Different forms of differentiated integration posed different problems. For example, most thought that integration differentiated by sovereignty and enhanced cooperation posed few problems. Our interviewees pointed out that these forms of differentiation can respond to the diverse wishes and needs of Member States and their citizens. They also felt that they had the advantage of facilitating integration when certain Member States did not wish to integrate further. As one Portuguese interviewee put it, “ it is perfectly acceptable that some countries do not want to go further in integration, but this decision cannot block […] others who want to go further.
However, some feared that undemocratic governments could use sovereignty-differentiated integration to justify rule of law violations. Accordingly, they insisted that certain fundamental areas of law should be compulsory. Others feared that enhanced cooperation would end up “forcing” everyone to adhere to policies in which they did not want to be involved or to create a two-speed Europe in which some member states would have more rights and power. that others.
Our interviewees were generally more critical of the differentiated integration by ability. Political actors in southern, central and eastern Europe were very concerned that this form of differentiated integration could be used to exclude them from policies they might have wished to adhere to. As one Greek respondent put it, he feared that differentiated integration would lead his country to “be excluded”. Only a few respondents saw capacity-differentiated integration as a bulwark against domination and as a means of facilitating the integration of poorer member states.
Make differentiated integration work
To address these issues, our interviewees felt it was important that differentiated policies remain open to all to join on the basis of transparent and achievable criteria. They supported the fact that in the Council all members are consulted but that only member states participating in a policy have the right to vote.
However, they believed that even in differentiated policy areas it was important that all MEPs could vote in the European Parliament as they represent all EU citizens, and not just the citizens of certain Member States. As one Danish interviewee put it, “There is a difference between Council and Parliament. The Council is where countries represent themselves […] In the European Parliament, I am not saying that Denmark wants this, or that Denmark wants this, so I think we should have a Parliament for the whole of Europe ”.
What do our results mean for differentiated integration in the future? First, they suggest that, because differentiated integration is seen as having a dominant potential, attention should be paid to mitigating this risk. Second, they point to some design elements that might help fight dominance. More specifically, many actors felt that differentiated policies should remain open to all and subject to clear and transparent membership criteria; be voted for (as is currently the case) by the European Parliament as a whole, but only by the Member States concerned in the Council; and be subject to genuinely inclusive consultation and voting processes to ensure they remain non-dominant.
For more information, see the authors’ accompanying article in the Swiss Journal of Political Science
Note: this article gives the point of view of the authors and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured Image Credit: European Council