According to this article, four prime-ministers from EU issued warnings about EU disintegration after Jean-Claude Juncker talked about the possibility of having a "multi-speed Europe":

Prime ministers of four central European countries warned against the "disintegration" of the EU a day after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker outlined possible scenarios for the future of the bloc, including a multi-speed Europe.

According to Wikipedia (the article has several issues, but I think it is still relevant for an overview), there are many non-uniformities within EU: Schengen area Treaty, European Defense initiative, European Constitution not being ratified by some national parliaments.

Other arguments for a multi-speed Europe include:

  • the Poles have opted out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights
  • the Czechs keep them company outside the Fiscal Compact
  • justice and corruption problems in Romania and Bulgaria which forced EU into having Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (still active after more than 10 years of membership)

Question: Why is multi-speed Europe frowned upon if reality seems to confirm the concept?

  • Because appearances matter, especially in an idea-based project like EU
    – user4012
    Sep 7, 2017 at 18:41

4 Answers 4


There are aspirations, aims, and reality.

The aim of the EU is described by the "Solemn Declaration on European Union"

The Heads of State or Government, on the basis of an awareness of a common destiny and the wish to affirm the European identity, confirm their commitment to progress towards an ever closer union among the peoples and Member States of the European Community.

To this end, the aspiration is for the non-uniformaties that you describe (such as the Polish opt out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, or the British remaining outside the Eurozone) to be temporary, and for those countries to work towards joining all the institutions of the EU.

A multi-speed Europe is something else. It would imply that different parts of the EU are actually moving further apart. There would be a core that are rapidly integrating, and becoming ever more distant from the periphery. This goes against the basic vision of the EU, and hence is viewed as a bad idea by politicians who support that vision.

A multi-speed Europe seems to be a reality (with some countries even going into reverse) but that does not stop this from being seen negatively.

  • 1
    Exactly, its a different thing to understand there are differences and varying levels of development and/or conformity to the union's ideal and working towards eradicating them for the betterment of all associated parties and a different thing to just "abandon" countries to be left behind because of their differences.
    – Leon
    Sep 8, 2017 at 9:22

In addition to James K's answer, there is the fact that a multi-speed Europe would inevitably become 'pick what you want out of EU policy'. The EU would lose power over member nations, which it certainly doesn't want at this point.

  • This is an interesting aspect. However, this is already happening (some policies are not met), since several countries are not within Schengen Area (probably because they have problems securing their borders and corruption, at least this is the official reason for denying Romania entering the area). Also some EU contries are not within Eurozone. Although a multi-speed Europe sounds really bad in theory, I see mostly like: in order to be a EU member, there are some musts. If you want the goodies (Schengen, Euro etc.), there are stricter rules.
    – Alexei
    Sep 9, 2017 at 10:09
  • Yeah, I would support a multi-speed Europe, but it would get to the point where a major country (say France) doesn't like a new policy that comes from another (say Germany), so it doesn't implement it. Then other countries would complain amount implementing policies that they don't like, and then the entire EU just fragments. Like imagine Greece dropping the euro and Germany getting mad at having been defaulted. Sep 9, 2017 at 10:22

The European Union is not a unitary form of political organisation but a form of federalism; in a unitary system, all power is held at the centre, even if it delegates power to other regional powers, it still has the power to revoke this delegation - for example, the devolution of parliamentary powers in the UK to the Scottish legislature.

Federalism means that the nations that comprise it retain, in essence, their sovereignty and as sovereign nations they are at liberty to formulate their own policies and part of this liberty is to keep to the terms of treaties and agreements.

In a sense, this pan-European vision is merely taking the form of government in European nations - liberal democracy - and embedding it as a European wide institution between sovereign nations. The questions are how does the democratic vision work at this level, what kind institutions are required, and how to go about gaining political legitimacy. It's along these lines that pointed criticisms have been made about European wide institutions - their lack of accountability, transparency and democratic deficit. Nevertheless, many people who have made these criticisms - for example the Greek ex-finance minister - Yannis Varafoukis - still have faith in the EU.

As a federal form of European government allows for a 'multi-speed' Europe in that local, regional and national situations are responsive to events at that level; this in European language is the principle of subsidiarity.

However, the central institutions of the EU union must work uniformly; in the same way, that every citizen is treated, in principle, uniformly, that is alike before the law. To fracture, then, this uniformity into 'multi-speed', would fracture the central institutions of the EU and lead to a loss of political legitimacy and hence to its possible disintegration; in the same way, were the law, in dispensing justice to the citizens of a nation, were to take account of a mans wealth or his estate or his social position, the law would be accused of selling justice to the highest bidder, and would lose likewise legitimacy amongst its citizens.

  • 1
    There are those who conflate (or equate) becoming more united with becoming more unitary (or centralized). A "more perfect union" doesn't need to be either.
    – David A
    May 20, 2018 at 21:45

Why is multi-speed Europe frowned upon if reality seems to confirm the concept?

But your examples don't confirm the concept. They confirm that Europe is currently proceeding that way.

Are there any examples of the concept failing? Certainly:

  • The Greek financial crisis arose in part because lenders treated them as a sovereign country. If they were a subordinate government in a larger nation, then they would not have treated them the same way. The currency union ran ahead of the fiscal union. This is not to say that a Greece outside the European Union would have not had a crisis. It is to say that the consequences of such a crisis would have been more limited.

  • Brexit was (and continues to be) the result of a multiple speed Europe. The United Kingdom had one foot outside the union. It was thus easier for them to split off.

We have previous examples of something like the EU trying to function. The original government of the United States of America tried it. It was such an obvious failure that they created the modern form of the US government in response.

Even the modern form tried compromise on the subject of abolition. They had a multi-speed America on that one issue. The result was a bloody civil war less than eighty years later.

As a concept, a multi-speed union has serious flaws. So should they just accept those flaws because that's how the world is? Or should they try to address them? The multi-speed Europe is accepting the way the world is now. Everyone who wants the world to be different is naturally going to oppose it.

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