EU-IDEA Policy Paper nº16 (2021)
Differentiated integration has been and will remain a necessity if Europe wants to overcome stalemate and improve the functioning of the European integration process. The central question is thus not whether there will be a differentiated Europe, but what it will or rather should look like. This paper develops and evaluates five potential scenarios for a “differentiated EUrope 2035”: (1) status quo differentiation; (2) muddling upwards; (3) fundamental disruption of differentiation; (4) creation of an inner core; and (5) a new supranational union. It explores the potential challenges/opportunities of the various forms of differentiation by analysing how the scenarios might lead to high(er) or low(er) levels of effectiveness and legitimacy/democratic accountability. Without trying to predict the future, the paper identifies key factors determining the future of a “differentiated EUrope” and comes to the conclusion that the EU and its members are likely to prefer the “muddling upwards” scenario rather than more radical forms of differentiation. However, future crises might force Europe in another direction, compelling governments to depart from business as usual.