* What should that future look like?
Enlargement has ground to a halt in recent years, partly because voters in some member countries oppose the idea of Western Balkan countries joining the club and fear the free movement of their workers once they are in. If the bloc offered “membership minus” to some applicants — meaning they would not take part in certain policies, such as free movement — opposition to enlargement would diminish.
The same is true when it comes to the EU’s approach to its neighbors. Brussels has offered countries to the east and south too little incentive for entering its orbit. The EU should give selected neighbors that are unlikely to become full-fledged members the chance to take part in specific policies. Just as Turkey has a customs union with the bloc, Tunisia or Ukraine, say, could join parts of the single market or discussions on foreign policy.
To be sure, there are limits to how far the EU can take this scheme. The bloc couldn’t function smoothly if every member was not involved in the single market, competition policy and trade, environmental rules and foreign policy. But that still leaves room to accommodate different interests.
The eurozone, Schengen, policing and defense cooperation are all policy areas that currently allow members to opt out. That logic should be extended wherever possible, allowing members to opt out of the databases that facilitate cooperation on security, the harmonization of corporate taxation or new arrangements for the sharing of intelligence, for example.
Moving toward more flexibility is a challenge to the EU’s legal order — which the bloc’s institutions in Brussels will, rightly, seek to protect like hawks. Many in the European capital will insist that if some non-members are allowed to take part in policies such as defense, trade or some aspects of the single market, they must accept the entirety of EU rules and the jurisdiction of its courts.
But flexibility would undeniably make the bloc more attractive to potential applicants. Britain, not insignificantly, would be more likely to rejoin the bloc one day, if it could move into an “outer circle” that did not involve the euro, Schengen and other policies. The same would apply to an independent Scotland or Catalonia, or to countries reticent about European integration, such as Switzerland and Norway.
The U.K. government is currently focused on exiting the club, and few European leaders are in a hurry to draw the British closer once they are out. But in the long term, when Britain has experienced the chill winds of solitude, and when the EU recognizes that keeping the Brits at arm’s length is not good for anybody, both may come to see the value in creating more flexible “membership” solutions.
Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform.
* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at : http://politico.eu
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