The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is gearing up to lead a charge for ‘more Europe’ in the face of calls to create a two-tier European project, sources within the Commission have said.
Unveiling a white paper on a post-Brexit strategy for the bloc on 1 March, Juncker outlined five possible paths ahead: 1) “Carry on”; 2) “Nothing but the single market”; 3) “Those who want more, do more”; 4) “Doing less, more efficiently”; and 5) “Doing much more together”.
The leaders of France, Germany, Spain, and Italy expressed a preference for a two-stream Union at a press conference on Monday, a line which Juncker himself has previously taken.
But responding to press reports that this was still the position Juncker held, Commission sources have sought to clarify he has now shifted to backing the fifth option – more Europe.
Juncker is said to be keen to keep a low profile on the matter, fearing a backlash from governments and citizens should the Commission be seen to be imposing greater integration on the peoples of Europe.
“It could have been perceived as another project imposed by Brussels,” a Commission official told EURACTIV.
Instead, he is relying on push-back, principally by the Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia), against the idea of a two-stream union.
“Regardless of the speed of integration, we all need to pull in one direction, have a common objective, vision and trust in a strong and prosperous Union,” the leaders four Visegrad countries said in a joint statement issued 2 March.
They accepted that “enhanced cooperation”, allowed for by the EU treaties, could be used “to ensure a necessary flexibility”.
But they added that “any form of enhanced cooperation should be open to every member state and should strictly avoid any kind of disintegration of the single market, the Schengen area and the European Union itself”.
Their stance puts them at odds with their Western European partners, most notably France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Leaders of the four countries met in Versailles, France, on Monday in preparation for an upcoming EU meeting, where they agreed to seek to move forward with integration at a faster pace and allow other member states to come on board in their own time.
“We must have the courage to accept that some countries can move forward a little more quickly than others,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.