Differentiation and Flexible Integration

The study of European integration has traditionally started from the idea that the EU institutions and the decision-making procedures as laid down by the Treaties are the most significant forum of regional governance. Over the last decades however, Member States have increasingly resorted to more flexible arrangements such as partial memberships, governance in parallel structures or loose commitments to intensified cooperation among a select group of countries. In some cases, these formats of cooperation are governed by EU law, in others by international treaties or other forms of cross-border collaboration – the latter two taking up historically significant 19th and 20th century formats of European and international cooperation. Whether it concerns economic and monetary policy (the European Monetary Union), freedom of movement (Schengen) or specific areas of regulation governing the internal market (such as in the case of genetically modified organisms), increasingly one needs to look beyond the EU institutions. Moreover, in times of growing Euro-scepticism and seemingly irreconcilable political interests the prospect of a European Union at different speeds or levels seems to be both a logical and also normatively attractive outcome. In light of these developments, CERiM researchers address the following aspects of differentiation and flexible integration:

  • The contextualisation of flexible and differentiated integration: The observation of this phenomenon is not entirely new and innate to the European Union. Through a comparison with the governance structures in other world regions and within other international organizations we can better understand the specificity of the EU’s own experience. Historical research plays a crucial role to facilitate such a comparison across time.
  • The political and legal conditions of flexible and differentiated integration: Why and under which conditions may and do the Member States deviate from the ‘traditional’ manner of integration, i.e. a significant transfer of competences and regulatory harmonisation? What are the motivations for Member States to opt-in or out of a specific arrangement? The role of Euro-scepticism, national interests, politicization and potential mechanisms of control over delegated powers are but a few of the issues addressed.
  • The apprehension of the consequences of flexible and differentiated integration: In terms of the future integration project, the nature of the EU political and legal order may become increasingly fuzzy. Here fundamental questions arise as to the ‘core’ of the European Union, its legal order, and its membership. Likewise, the flexible arrangements will also affect the institutional structures and policy outcomes we observe and ultimately have an impact on the perceived input and output legitimacy of EU decision-making.