Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

EU Pick ‘n’ Mix

Switzerland, eh? Never could quite work out their insistence on holding referenda on everything under the sun, but they’ve got it nicely right this time.

Not only have they demonstrated happily that they’re one of the least homophobic countries in the world, but they’ve opted to join the Schengen group. Now the Swiss can enjoy the benefits of (almost) Europe-wide travel without the bother of passports and such like. (More info on the Schengen Treaty here and here.)

Coming as it does just after the rejection of the EU constitutional treaty by France and Holland, this can surely only be a further indication that a multi-speed Europe is the way forward. Switzerland, like Norway and Iceland, has shown little interest in joining the EU in its current form, but does want some of the benefits. Both Norway and Iceland are now part of the European Economic Area – but not the EU – while Switzerland rejected EEA membership yet has (unlike EU members Britain and Ireland) joined Schengen. Iceland and Norway joined that back in 1996.

The only question now is will the powers that be within the EU start paying attention, and see the benefits of bringing all these various cross-European agreements under a flexible EU umbrella? Not only would that allow the less integrationist current member states to carry on happily, but would enable those that wish it to create a mini “United States of Europe” at the core, surrounded by a larger Eurozone, surrounded by non-Eurozone members, surrounded by affilliate members. All could then be involved purely to the extent they wish, and both federalists and free traders could be kept happy under various parts of the overarching EU framework.

As far as I can see it, this has got to be the most sensible way to progress for all concerned. A regular EU Pick ‘n’ Mix where the sceptics can keep their distance and be safe in the knowledge they won’t be forced into closer integration against their will and the fanatics can happily break down national boundaries – all the while, everyone in the continent trading and talking more than ever before, with none of the resentment towards the organisation that the club mentality of the EU currently seems to breed among its opponents and non-members alike.

(I’m sure I’ll shut up about a multi-speed Europe sooner or later… Sorry…)


  1. Nah, don't shut up. This is the one area where sceptics and (sensible) pro-Europeans can agree. Trouble is, are the twats in Brussels listening? I just heard new proposals to 'sneak through' bit of the Constitution – not just the democratic bits, but the foreign minister, curtailment of vetoes, EAS, etc. Unbefuckinglievable. What does it take to stop these nitwits?
    Keep on keeping on. Eventually they'll get the message. Prolly.

  2. I agree. This is the area where the pro-Europeans and (sensible) sceptics can meet half-way. As a pro-European I'd be quite happy to see this approach. Why can't we have a multi-speed Europe. If some of the countries want to go down the road of creating a federation then they should be able to do so. Meanwhile, the other countries of the continent should be freely able to do a bit of picking and mixing as they see fit. If the UK doesn't want to allow free travel, but non-EU Switzerland does, then so be it. If Ireland doesn't want to get involved in defence, but non-EU NATO Norway does, no worries. This really is the most sensible way forward. Naturally, I would hope that the UK would be at the core of things, but at least this way we don't have to leave altogether and lose many of the benefits we currently have – like freedom to live and work across all the states and a chance to have at least some say in creating the rules.

  3. Good post. I'd love to see something half as sensible one day in a British newspaper …

  4. Nosemonkey

    Some good ideas in there, problem is nobody at moment seems to want to be in this core Europe apart from Germany, as it was Netherlands and France that rejected the constitution while Italy is talking about leaving the Euro

    Hopefully this will work out to create more democratic Europe in the end

  5. Absolutely agree – keep on keeping on.

    To a degree, this is why I wanted to know why you were apparently pro-EU: this is exactly the position that I would like to see and, IMHO, that makes me fairly anti-EU as it currently stands.

    The problem is how to pick and mix the EU laws: how do we keep the free trade area, but ditch all the petti-fogging regulation?

    There follows an equally pressing question as to how we determine into which circle (golly – visions of Dante's circles of hell there for a moment – forgive me) we place ourselves.

    To this end, I have an idea which I am putting up for a vigorous fisking. It goes something like this:
    All the nation states of the EU undertake a form of national election to a convention on the future of the EU.
    – individuals stand on the basis of a manifesto that declares what sort of EU they would like to see (superstate, Customs union, EFTA, Total disengagement/banishment to the Outer darkness)
    – individuals are to be elected on the basis of this manifesto and these should specifically exclude any domestic politics or even policy position.
    – As far as possible, individuals standing should be distanced from national party politics.
    – any person who is drawing (or has drawn in the past) a salary from any EU institution, or who is entitled to an EU pension will not be eligible to stand on the basis of the obvious conflict of interest.
    – Individuals duly elected convene to discuss the future of the EU.
    – The convention elects its own presiding officer
    – the agenda for the convention should, as a starting point, be the Laeken Declaration.

    Once this lot have come up with a document it is put to a popular referendum in all member countries.

    I know you don't like referenda Nosemonkey, but we simply wouldn't have the opportunity even to be discussing your excellent proposal if it had been left to the Dutch and French Parliaments to decide.

  6. Within many countries, you have rival parties propagating starkly different economic frameworks, say state-interventionists (who need a federalising EU) vs liberals (who want only the free market). Every four years you have an election where voters can switch (realistically: adjust) the ideology. Now we're pondering here whether in the EU we should have different economic policies (foreign policies, environmental policies…) concurrently, spread geographically over the continent depending on the last national election results. Of course, that is exactly the situation that we have now. But the single superstructure institution that embraces such concurrent plurality within itself would have to operate in a pretty smart way in order to avoid being, er, hugely inefficient and basically useless. I agree we need to find a way of dealing with all the diversity, but the task won't be easy at all.

  7. I think AlanK's right, though – there aren't many takers for a 'core Europe.' Plus the way in which the EU splits over any one issue is always slightly different, case by case. Granted, there's a pretty clear 'liberal arc' most of the time (UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Central Europe) but it's not always the same. Eg. on the working time issue a couple of days ago Austria, Germany and Italy backed the UK, but Sweden and Finland were with France etc.

    Hew BG – out of interest, would you prefer the UK to be a) in the free trade area and implementing single market legislation by bilateral treaty like Switzerland, or b) implementing the single market legislation en masse like Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway (and better than France most of the time…)or c) just in the free trade area but implementing no single market legislation at all)

    (Where the single market legislation is concerned, I'm taking it as read that some of the legislation is pettifogging and shouldn't be there – I was talking more about the free trade vs single market regulations per se.

  8. The problem is (and this is probably why Blair & Co are against a "multi-gear" EU) that the overall trend is integration. The need for it is unlikely to be reduced over time. So when the now eurosceptic states join the "core", they will have to accept the terms already laid out by the states that first formed it.

    Switzerland for example had no influence in forming the Schengen agreement – they just had to accept it as it is.

    As for a "core" group, I believe that in fact all but Britain and the Scandinavian countries would want to join. France would probably be very happy with such an arrangement as it would gain influence. The French "non" shouldn't be interpreted as an anti-integration vote. As for the Dutch, they are a bit politically unpredictable right now, but overall there is no reason to question their commitment to integration.

    Personally, I'm for a multi-geared model as I think it would help to avoid obstruction from certain states. While I was for the constitution as it is better than Nice, I still felt it was basically an incoherent sequence of compromises. If some of the more sceptic states were removed from the equation we could get a much better document. I fear however that my country, Sweden, would choose to stay out of the core group.

    Then there is of course the question of practical implementation which would be no trivial matter. The EU institutions would basically have to operate on the least common denominator, which would limit its efficiency. You can see it already with the Euro – the EP has basically no say there as not all member states have introduced it.


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