A multi-speed Europe and the Visegrád Four

While Viktor Orbán is celebrating his “victory” in his fight with the European Commission over the expansion of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, politicians in the western half of the continent are busily working on laying the foundation for a new type of European Union, one that might be able to avoid the pitfalls that have besieged Brussels ever since the abrupt enlargement of the Union in 2004.

On March 1 the European Commission published a White Paper on the future of Europe, “Avenues for the EU at 27.” The White Paper sets out five scenarios, each offering a glimpse into the potential state of the Union by 2025 depending on the choices Europe makes. Scenario 1: Carrying On. Scenario 2: Nothing but the Single Market. Scenario 3: Those Who Want More Do More, which means that the 27 members proceed as today but willing member states can do more together in areas such as defense, internal security, or social matters. Thus one or several “coalitions of the willing” will emerge. What will that mean exactly? To give but one example, 15 member states set up a police and magistrates corps to tackle cross-border criminal activities; security information is exchanged as national databases are fully interconnected. Scenario 4: Doing Less More Efficiently, which means delivering more and faster in selected areas, while doing less in other areas. Scenario 5: Doing Much More Together, in other words something close to a real union.

Although Juncker tried to deliver these five options in a neutral tone, it soon became evident that he and the other policy makers preferred scenario 3. “This is the way we want to go,” said an EU official to Euroaktiv.

On March 25 the White Paper will be officially handed over to the 27 governments in Rome at the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which signaled the first step toward the idea of a united Europe. It is there that the Visegrád 4 countries were planning to propose amendments to the EU treaties, but their hopes are most likely misplaced. As an unnamed EU official said, “for treaty change, there is no market.”

The idea of a multi-speed Europe has been in the air for some time as an answer to the feared disintegration of the European Union after Brexit. But it was only on February 3, at the informal summit of the European Council in Malta, that Angela Merkel spoke of such a solution publicly. Since then behind the scenes preparations for the implementation of this solution have been progressing with spectacular speed.

Today the “Big Four” officially called for a new dynamic, multi-speed Europe. In the Palace of Versailles Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Mariano Rajoy, and Paolo Gentiloni announced their support for a newly revitalized multi-speed Europe. The leaders of Germany, France, Spain, and Italy want to do more than celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the EU. They want “to reaffirm [their] commitment to the future,” said Hollande. Merkel added that “we should have the courage to allow some countries to move ahead, to advance more quickly than others.” To translate these diplomatic words into less polite language, these four countries, most likely supported by a fair number of other western and perhaps also Baltic states, are sick and tired of countries like members of the Visegrád 4. If they don’t want deeper integration and a common policy on defense, the economy, security and immigration, so be it. They will be left behind.

European leaders at the Palace of Versailles / Euroactiv.fr

What is Viktor Orbán’s reaction to these plans? As we know, the Hungarian prime minister can change his positions quickly and frequently, and it looks as if in the last month his ideas on the subject have hardened. Bruxinfo received information from sources close to Orbán at the time of the Malta Summit that the Hungarian prime minister didn’t consider the formation of a multi-speed Europe a necessarily adverse development as far as Hungary is concerned.

On March 2, however, a day after Juncker’s White Paper came to light, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary issued a joint declaration to the effect that the Visegrád 4, strongly supported by Viktor Orbán, find the idea of a multi-speed Europe unacceptable. The declaration said that the Visegrád 4 countries want neither federalization nor a return to the single market. What they find most odious, however, is Scenario 3. They look upon a multi-speed Europe as a sign that they will be treated as poor relatives, second-class citizens. Unfortunately, the four Visegrád countries, besides not wanting to be left behind, can’t agree on the extent of integration they are ready to accept.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic, unlike Poland and Hungary, are ready to cooperate with Brussels in certain areas such as asylum, migration policy, and the digital agenda in the spirit of “Bratislava Plus” adopted in September 2016. You may recall that after the Bratislava Summit Viktor Orbán was the only political leader who announced that the summit was a failure. He was especially unhappy that his Visegrád 4 friends didn’t stick with him during the negotiations. It looks as if Poland and Hungary didn’t manage to force their rigid attitude on the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Because of their differences, the common denominator of the Visegrád 4’s declaration was merely a description of their gripes. As a result, their message was defensive and weak. The four countries “express their concerns about creating exclusive clubs, they demand the equality of member states, and they want to involve national parliaments more in the political process that would control the subnational institutions,” as Vit Dostál, editor-in-chief of Euroaktiv.cz, remarked in his op/ed piece. The news about the decision of the German, French, Spanish and Italian prime ministers yesterday had to come as very bad news for the Visegrád 4. A multi-speed Europe is a frightening prospect for these countries.

Of course, they wouldn’t have to worry so much if they, especially Poland and Hungary, were more accommodating in their attitudes and would accept the fact that by joining the European Union they gave up some of their countries’ sovereignty. If they accepted the fact that the refugee problem is something that can be solved only together. As Merkel said in Versailles yesterday: “Cooperation can be kept open to those that have fallen behind.” We will see which road Orbán will choose, but cooperation is not Orbán’s strong suit.

March 7, 2017
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Observer
Guest

Multi speed EU is the less desirable option I tipped, but more realistic. Provided the new French and German govs implement it.
The most positive element in this option is the majority voting (my preferred option), which of course will be non bounding for the nays in this case. This breaks with the liberum veto, which became unsustainable with the enlargement of the EU.
However, the danger of this option is that it may turn the EU into a set of multilateral agreements without much cohesion between the embers and much less cross effects between the various areas, e.g. Orbanistan benefitting from development funds while becoming a full dictatorship with violent political persecution.
It will be an even more complicated game, but it will need improving the efficiency of the EU bodies/organizations and using some stick next to the carrot, and a bigger stick that is.

Roderick S. Beck
Guest

The current system is a failure because individual states have veto power and the lowest common denominator always prevails. A multi-speed Europe would pressure the black sheep and stragglers to cooperate.

Observer
Guest

Sorry
” non binding for the nays..”

Guest

The European Treaties already allow EU Member-States to move ahead faster in smaller groups; it is called enhanced cooperation. The EU is at an impasse. The UK was the main reason why enhanced cooperation had not been used so far but with brexit on one hand and Poland/Hungary on the other, the only way forward for some Western EU countries is a multi-speed European Union. No one will listen to Viktor Orbán or Lech Kaczyński (or Beata Szydło) who are already disqualified in EU circles anyways.

bimbi
Guest
That the European Union has been stagnating for some years now has been all too apparent. Ever since the 2008 crash and the imposition of the austerity-at-all-costs policy the level of dissatisfaction with the EU and its inability to change and revitalise has been rising. Brexit reflected such attitudes (as well as dissatisfaction with UK politics). There has been no effort to address the very real problem of wealth disparity across the EU and especially so when those at the bottom are employed on short-term contracts or at minimum pay rates (or as in Hungary’s case) even less. It is EIGHT years after the 2008 crisis and the youth unemployment rate in Italy stands at 39%! How can that statistic be reconciled with a Union for All? It reflects 8 years of failure. Only now, faced with the clear threat of disintegration of the union are the Central Powers waking up to the idea that something has to change, things have to improve. High time. Whether the changes to be adopted by this “core of the willing” will, or will be allowed to, bring revitalization to Europe remains to be seen for there will be several voices in opposition. It… Read more »
Roderick S. Beck
Guest

Wealth disparity is inevitable in a capitalist system and I point to Sweden as a good example. Despite reducing income equality, wealth inequality has always been quite high. Any successful entrepreneur has a number of ways to fight taxes. 1. Pay himself less and keep more as retained earnings. 2. Pay himself via dividends as opposed to salary and wages. 3. Sell equity in the company and pay only taxes on those equity or stock sales.

The state can employ a variety of countermeasures, but if they are effective, then capital flees the country. Mitterand tried such measures and it was a fiasco for France.

Guest

they will be treated as poor relatives, second-class citizens.

Well, that’s what they are – and always whing too which really gets on everybody’s nerves!

A bit OT re the quality of politicians and the direction of politics:

Just look at the UK and its political elite – how they’re squirming, running in circles and doing nothing, it’s kind of grotesque!

On the other hand in Germany the position of Mrs Merkel and her party has been weakened – but not in the way that Orbán etc hoped, making the right wing AfD etc stronger.
No, the Social Democrats under their new leader Martin Schulz (remember how the right wing tried to talk him down when he was in Briussels?) are getting stronger and stronger – there might even be a coalition with the Left and the Greens after the election – and Mrs Merkel as leader of the opposition …
This is surely not what Orbán and the crazy Polish extreme right wing “Christians” were hoping for …

bimbi
Guest
In these discussions it is easy to forget that Viktor Orban does NOT represent the Hungarian people. Orban is the leader of a regressive clique whose first goal is massive personal enrichment through theft of the resources that belong to the Hungarian people, be it tax money, personal pension funds, state-owned land, residence rights in Hungary or EU Cohesion Funds. Assisting in that goal is Control over the population, through a constitution that no electorate voted on, through news, through the media, through retroactive and potentially punitive laws, through the establishment of private armies and the constant generation of a climate of fear. Thirdly is the re-writing of history to construct a grotesque echo of Horthy-ism and some imagined sabre-rattling glory days of a Greater Hungary. In the last seven years it could have been different: investment in education at all levels for the common good, construction of decent housing, genuine economic growth that produced growing employment and growing prosperity, a health-care system worthy of the population a sensible tax system where the rich paid their fair share, a legal system independent of government cronyism that prosecuted widespread corruption and all guided by a government whose policies embraced the whole… Read more »
Observer
Guest

TAKE NOTE
those who don’t follow closely. Great description of the Hungarian crisis.

Istvan
Guest

Bimbi I question whether the Orban/Fidesz government is a “clique.” While those that receive extensive benefit from the corruption of the Hungarian Mafia state are limited, it’s patronage adherence seems extensive. My experience in Hungary, while I am sure is much more limited than yours or others on the blog, indicates a much wider circle of influence of the Fidesz state than just the higher oligarchs and government officials and Fidesz MPs. Balint Magyar’s sociological analysis of Orban’s rule indicates a much deeper buy in than just that of a clique.

We all know of relatives that believe they have certain advantages because of their relationshIps with Fidesz politicians even if those relationships really don’t yield much. One of my relatives works for an US based bank in Budapest and the last thing he wants in the world is to be identified as being anti-Fidesz, he recognizes that György Matolcsy is a mad man yet has been photographed with him along with other representatives of US banking firms. I not sure the word clique, provides the depth of the tentacles of Fidesz rule.

bimbi
Guest

Yes Istvan, you are quite correct. The Hungarian word “banda” provides the perfect description.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘As Merkel said in Versailles yesterday: “Cooperation can be kept open to those that have fallen behind.”

I admire Markell for trying to think positively with the truants who have different definitions of ‘cooperation’ in their vocabulary. However, the German leader always will have the angst in dealing with those with the ‘squeaky wheels’ no doubt constantly slowing things up by demanding grease and attention along the way. And besides when you have ‘us’ vs ‘them’ in the setup of groups it’s already a strike in generating anything but a ‘union’. The Visegraders will always have a chip on the shoulder and they will use every chance to put it in the EU’s face if it suits them.

wrfree
Guest

Sorry for that editing.. it’s Merkel..

petofi
Guest

Merkel is a great politician. She knows that it’s best to allow countries with present, difficult leadership to come back into the fold at a later date. Marvelous tactic.

Guest

That’s right – of course with the USA or Russia you have to follow another strategy, but with the little uniportant Balkan countries …

A bit OT:
Here’s alist of “the best countries” – Germany fell behind a bit to 4th place, but Hungary is way behind at 46.
https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/overall-full-list

Hardy
Guest

But on this map Hungary is rated as the number one country worldwide for….

Hardy
Guest
Guest

I have to confess that I “knew” the answer … 😉

Roderick S. Beck
Guest

I will never take seriously lists that omit what the country achieves. We know that it will not be Germany that puts the first man on Mars, but either China or the US. And it terms of academic prowess, it lags despite the Max Planck institutes. We all owe Germany gratitude for its current role in stabilizing Europe and providing solid, ‘boring’ leadership. But this lists is about comfort and economic security, not dynamic cultural and intellectual development and scientific achievement. Switzerland is not my idea of a great country.

Istvan
Guest

Yes I have a hard time believing Juncker thought up the multi-speed strategy. He seems to go out of his way to try to force things down the throats of those who resist. For the V4 to be complaining about this policy seems insane to me.

Unfortunately the multi speed approach should have been considered prior to Brexit, but that ship has sailed.

webber
Guest

Brits were not interested in a multi-speed Europe. The majority of them were interested in no Europe whatsoever.

Roderick S. Beck
Guest

Agreed. The Brits don’t even consider themselves part of Europe.

TKT
Guest

If you want to multi-speed to a Western Europe, where within decades the majority of the population will be Non-Western, Non-European, Non- and Anti-Christian, Muslim, African, etc. … Have you seen the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul? Well, in due time, the Notre Damne and all the great cathedrals will look like it. No thanks. Bone Voyage!!!!

Guest

You can keep your “Christians” in the USA – we don’t need them here!

PS:
Your French is even more abominable than your English – what are you trying to tell us?

TKT
Guest

You sound like a communist, cultural Marxist atheist right out of the Frankfort School…

Guest

I have seen the Hagia Sofia. It is a wonderful museum. The Turks have carefully preserved its original architechture and Christian mosaics. I is very well kept. Just as Alhambra.

TKT
Guest

Before the Turks, Hagia Sophia was the most magnificent Church in Christendom. Now it is a Mosque not a “museum”. The truks destroyed most of the mosaics… a small section was covered for centuries and survived. Its sacred art is essentiall destroyed by the Muslims. Your ignorance is amazing comrade.

Guest

Idiot! Remember the library of Alexandria destroyed by you “Christians”:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_of_the_Library_of_Alexandria
And should we talk abpout the millions of people killed “In the name of god”?
Now f*ck off!

Roderick S. Beck
Guest

No, it was Christians were paved the way for the fall of Constantinople and also committed the greatest damage against the City. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Crusade

Roderick S. Beck
Guest

A little history lesson for you. The Byzantine fell to Moslem invaders because it was weakened by the Western Crusades. The 4th Crusade was a siege of Christian Constantinople by Western Europeans.

Guest

Rather OT but funny:
For those who can read German – don’t know if the English press also reported this.

Our German SPIEGEL reports on the complaints by Hungary Poland etc that the bad, bad Global Players send products of lower quality to the “East” – chocolate and cheese, fish fingers and sweet drinks are named …

Now they want Brussels to have standrds for food quality !

http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/osteuropaeische-staaten-beschuldigen-lebensmittelkonzerne-schlechtere-produkte-in-ihren-laendern-anzubieten-a-1137851.html
The comments on this article are also funny and interesting.

What Orbán doesn’t say is that of course food must be more expensive here in Hungary because of the much higher VAT!

Guest

Breaking news:
Donald Tusk was reelected as president of the EU commission- everybody (including Hungary) voted for him except the Polish representative …

Guest

More precisely Orbán voted for Tusk.

Guest

Here are more details on this:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/09/donald-tusk-re-elected-as-european-council-president-despite-polish-opposition
It’s really funny how Orbán behaves completely different when in Brussels. I wonder how the Polish government will react in the long run – besides calling the EU under German dictatorship.

In a way all these happenings (like Trump’s presidency, May’s antics re Brexit and even Erdogan’s bizarre behaviour) are a good thing – they show who really stands for democracy and its values.

If this means a “core EU” – why not? But then those outside should also lose all financial support!

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