Summary of CERiM Conference on "Beyond Membership: The Transformation of the European Union"

On 7 June 2018 CERiM had the honour to welcome a number of key experts from various disciplines, to discuss on different aspects related to the question as to whether integration can happen beyond membership or not, and consequently how ‘cherry-picking’ should be dealt with. The European Union is constantly changing, and especially after Brexit, different models of membership are intensively discussed. What are the advantages of restricted memberships and cooperation in certain policy fields? How can cherry-picking be avoided? Could there still be the possibility to take joint action in certain sectors, while diverging in others? The overarching aim of the Conference was to examine these questions and the overall challenge of membership in the future, from the perspectives of different disciplines. 

The conference consisted of two panels, each addressing a different aspect of those questions. The first panel, which considered “Differentiated Integration in/ around the EU” started with a presentation by Simon Duke (EIPA Maastricht). He addressed a certain kind of differentiated integration, namely the cooperation on security and defence policies, in particular with regard to the newly established PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation). He pointed out that PESCO exemplifies the opportunities and risks that a multi-speed integration can hold for the future. Emphasizing the fact that it would be too early to judge about success or failure, the outcome of PESCO could mainly contribute to the credibility of the Union in the future and lead to a European Defence Community that could enable the European Union to act as an autonomous actor. The second speaker Andrea Ott (Maastricht University) focussed on the do’s and don’ts of cherry-picking and argued that there are different types of membership in Europe. She showed how they could be classified and divided on the basis of the countries involved, policy areas concerned and the forms those cooperations take. The final speaker Kathryn Wright (York University) pointed out that the “cherry” in cherry-picking must first be clearly identified, as it could be either the four freedoms or different policy areas. A possible solution according to Kathryn Wright could be that the UK participates to different degrees in different sectors, meaning working on big problems together, while being more flexible on other projects. Kathryn Wright also underlined that an overarching governance structure would need regulatory cooperation, monitoring and enforcement, dispute resolution as well as non-compliance measures. The panel was chaired by Esther Versluis (Maastricht University), while Natassa Athanasiadou (Maastricht University) acted as a discussant. 

The second panel on “Beyond EU Membership: Opting in from the outside” mainly addressed the possibilities of future (non-) membership for the Balkans and Turkey. The first speaker Marko Milenkovic (Institute of Social Sciences Belgrade and Johns Hopkins University SAIS Bologna) examined the different options of membership open to the Balkan states in light of the existing differentiated integration. He argued that even though the Balkan area cannot currently be fully integrated in the EU, participation and cooperation are crucial for differentiated integration. Furthermore, those countries need to be integrated further in the political, legislative and economic framework of the EU. The second speaker Meltem Müftüler Baç (University of Istanbul) took a closer look at the relationship between Turkey and Europe. Even though the accession negotiations are frozen for now, different means of cooperation still exist. She argued that no accession can, at the moment, be foreseen, however this does not mean that Turkey is not part of the European integration process. According to Meltem Müftüler Baç, Turkey and the EU share a strong bond over the European Integration process, leading to the consideration of optional differentiation degrees, not only for the UK, but also for Turkey. Mariolina Eliantonio (Maastricht University) chaired this session, and Thomas Conzelmann (Maastricht University) acted as a discussant.

The conference ended with a roundtable with Thomas Christiansen (Maastricht University) and Bruno de Witte (Maastricht University and European University Institute), reflecting on the future of EU Membership, leading to a lively discussion on whether partial membership is an option for the future or not. 

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