Andrew Duff -  On Governing Europe

And why Britain and Turkey may end up in much the same place

A longer version of this article may be found on LSE EUROPP at

The Great Recession pitches the European Union full tilt into a period of great change. In all probability, a Convention will be called in spring 2015 to install a federal economic government for a fiscal union. The chance will also be taken to rectify some of the mistakes made in the Lisbon treaty. A large majority of EU member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament already support that general approach. Angela Merkel may prefer only to make more surgical strikes at the treaties rather than a full-scale revision, but she must know that that option is rapidly disappearing.

After her recent visit to Turkey, the Chancellor will be confirmed in her view that, with the exception of Iceland, the prospect of early enlargement of the Union is remote. Turkey in any case appears to have changed its mind about accession, not least because the problem of Cyprus remains intractable, but also because the ruling party is more overtly Islamic in its orientation. And although they keep the aspiration to join the Union, no country in the Western Balkans is ready to assume the responsibilities of EU membership soon.

As the federal process quickens within the Union, the threshold of membership is raised. For candidate states, the Treaty of Lisbon is no longer the benchmark.

At the same time, the United Kingdom has called for a renegotiation of its own terms of membership in the hope of loosening the ties that bind. The UK, which will have to approve any revised treaty in a referendum, has the legal right to veto deeper integration for everyone else. Even if the Conservatives do not form the next government in 2015, there are few in Britain ready and willing to campaign for UK membership of the federal union which involves, above all and in the first instance, sterling joining the single currency.

Multi-Tier Governance

Despite these strong centrifugal forces, it is in everyone’s interests that the EU which emerges from its present troubles is capable of providing a pole of stability, liberty and prosperity on a continental scale. This matters for Britain just as much as for Eastern Europe. There is a similar perception of the need for a strong Europe in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

In the past, it has been assumed that all current and future states of the Union can proceed along the same chosen path, albeit at different speeds. Palpably, this is no longer the case. Lisbon itself bastardised by the failure of the earlier constitutional treaty may prove to have been the last treaty to corral all member states.

It is therefore time to use this critical situation to introduce the EU to more sophisticated multi-tier arrangements. Although some elements of more differentiated integration can be rendered by using the enhanced cooperation provisions of Lisbon, a more radical change is needed if Europe’s variable geometry is to acquire solid constitutional legitimacy.

The Brits, the Turks and the Rest

Over the years, the UK has won a large number of opt-outs and derogations from the core of the acquis communautaire. It declines to join the euro or Schengen. It now wants even less Europe. Mr Cameron wants to repatriate powers and competences from Brussels to London. His demands, which are to be spelled out by the end of 2014, are sure to jeopardise the cohesion of the single market and the integrity of EU law.

This UK government is prepared, as no predecessor has been, to absent itself from the Council when matters of fiscal union are being negotiated. It has declined to participate in the single supervisory mechanism of the banking union. The Conservative Party wants fewer rights from the Union in exchange for fewer duties. At the same time, its leaders preach about ‘the remorseless logic of fiscal union’, and encourage other EU countries to go forward to deeper integration without the UK. Missing the point, the Labour leadership accuses the Tories of sleep-walking towards the exit. In fact, the Tories are wide awake and have found the emergency stairway.

At the other end of Europe, the Turks look for a new relationship with the EU. The nostrum of a ‘privileged partnership’ outside the Union is unacceptable to Ankara, not least because it is difficult to find privilege in such an ambiguous concept. AKP ministers make it clear that Turkey is not prepared to pool national sovereignty in a federal EU. Like the British, the Turks want to opt out of the euro, and want of Europe a common market and a security relationship. Neither the Turks nor the Brits seem to like European fundamental rights. It does not go unnoticed that the UK is the strongest advocate of Turkey’s membership of the EU, but the suspicion is rife that the British Tories want further enlargement mainly in order to dilute further integration.

There is a third category of European state for which associate membership might prove to be amenable. In the European Economic Area, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein are virtual member states of the Union without any of the political or institutional trappings of full membership. Because this situation is unsatisfactory, Iceland is negotiating full accession and Norway is seeking to upgrade the terms and conditions of its EU partnership.

The Swiss, who declined even to accept EEA membership, are tied by a number of untidy bilateral deals to the EU’s internal market. The EU is right to insist that if Switzerland wishes to benefit from the fruits of European integration, it must at least recognise the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over that which is jointly agreed.

How To Do It

At the next revision of the treaties in 2015, a new clause should be added to establish the formal category of an associate state of the Union. Associate membership would require fidelity to the values and principles of the Union. However, it would not require adherence to all the political objectives of the Union, which include joining the euro. Nor would associate membership confer the duty to engage in all the activities of the EU.

For some, associate membership would be a spring board for full accession; for others, a long stay parking place; and for yet others a decent alternative to leaving the Union altogether. Associate membership would need to be negotiated on a case by case basis, and would be determined by the dynamics, as it were, of whether a state was coming or going. Participation by the associate state in the EU institutions would necessarily be limited, and would vary relative to the degree of EU regulation agreed. Each associate state would have to specify the policies and functions of the EU in which it intended to participate, and to accept terms and conditions, financial and institutional, on its participation.

Participation by an associate state in the internal market should not risk the operation of the market. Nor should its participation in the external action of the Union or in an international agreement of the Union prejudice the cohesion or limit the scope of the Union’s position. Associate states will agree contracts with the Commission and EU agencies for the delivery of policy in certain specified fields. These arrangements will contain reciprocal rights and obligations as well as the possibility of undertaking activities jointly.

As far as institutional arrangements are concerned, there could be an annual summit meeting, and associate state governments would have observer status in relevant Council meetings. Associate states would take part in appropriate consultations of the Commission and in working groups of the Council. They should participate as observers in comitology. National MPs of associate states should be observers at the European Parliament. Associate states would acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, and could intervene in cases before the Court. They should nominate judges to the General Court.

The Alternative

There will be many who resist the notion of associate membership. Yet nobody should underestimate the risk, in that case, that one or other existing member state will block the revised treaty either at its negotiation or during its ratification. Endless concessions by those who need more Europe towards those who want less Europe in an attempt to buy off hostility to the federal package are also unlikely to achieve optimum results.

Moreover, to condemn candidate countries to ever more complex, long-winded and challenging accession negotiations will not be edifying. Neither is the EEA option attractive. EEA members cannot shape EU policy in any way whatsoever. And EEA membership means being a net contributor to the EU budget while receiving no benefit from the CAP or structural funds.

So the Convention in 2015 needs to craft something other than privileged partnership outside the Union, something more than the EEA, yet something less than full membership. The European Union has proved itself over the years capable of great constitutional ingenuity, and it is reasonable to assume that, given the political will to work together for the good of all Europe, it can continue to do so.


A longer version of this article appears on the LSE EUROPP blog at

Andrew Duff MEP is President of the Union of European Federalists and co-chair of the Spinelli Group of MEPs. He is the rapporteur of a new Fundamental Law of the EU which will be published shortly.

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