Waiting for Juncker's white paper on a "multi-speed" EU

Access to the comments Comments
By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS
Waiting for Juncker's white paper on a "multi-speed" EU

Juncker’s White Paper

Jean-Claude Juncker will propose a handful of options for shoring up the EU’s shaky unity once the UK has triggered its withdrawal.

Juncker is expected to issue a much-anticipated white paper anytime now.

The European Commission president reportedly wants some states to be able to deepen cooperation without the whole bloc having to follow suit.

“This is no longer a time when we can imagine everyone doing the same thing together,” Juncker said last week.

His words echoed those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who called on February the 3rd for an EU of “varying speeds”.

However, the idea has raised concerns, especially among poorer, eastern countries, that their richer neighbours may use the situation to cut their EU subsidies.

“Some see this as a risk to unity,” one senior official said of Juncker’s multi-speed idea. “Others see a risk if we don’t do it and we fail to aspire.”

The White Paper

It is thought Juncker will argue for what is commonly called a “multi-speed Europe” in his policy document.

It is not clear exactly when it will be published.

EU commissioners were due to meet on Tuesday evening in Brussels to discuss the contents.

The details

Officials will not give any information about what the proposals are likely to be.

It is not thought they will include major institutional changes or treaty amendments, however.

Beset by a variety of challenges, most governments have no appetite for further upheaval.

“Broad choices” for the Rome summit

By setting out four or five practical “pathways to unity” or “alternative avenues for cooperation at 27”, EU officials say Juncker aims to give the 27 leaders of the post-Brexit union some broad choices to start considering at next month’s landmark summit in Rome.

The meeting, on March 25, marks 60 years of the bloc’s founding.

The UK is expected to trigger the process by which it will leave the EU before then.

Overcoming internal divisions

EU officials say the main aim of the Juncker proposals is to overcome internal divisions.

He wants responses by the autumn. By this time, the Netherlands, France and Germany will have held elections.

All of their governments are facing challenges from anti-EU movements.

Punishing the East?

Diplomats have insisted the existing rules already allow for “enhanced cooperation” in various fields, such as the 19-nation euro zone.

Talk of a two-speed approach sounds like an attempt to penalise the post-communist east to some, who have noted that a key obstacle to deeper integration of the eurozone, for example, was disagreement between Paris and Berlin.

Hungary and Poland, in particular, have irritated the EU by challenging its rules on democracy and resisting calls to take in asylum seekers. Germany has taken in over a million.

“A multi-speed Europe is a fact. No one has a problem with it. So why are they talking like this now? They are irritated with the east..it is divisive,” said one senior EU diplomat.