The case for a confederal Europe

I’m an EU nerd. As a younger civil servant, I used to be concerned in negotiating the Amsterdam, Nice, and Lisbon treaties. I’ve all the time been fascinated by enlargement and institutional reform. I’m an advocate of each widening and deepening. I wrote my PhD on versatile integration – multi-speed, variable geometry, and à la carte. I concluded that, basically, there isn’t any want for member states to do all the pieces on the identical time. As far as I’m conscious, nobody else has been each a note-taker and a speaker within the European Council. I’ve seen all of it: disaster and drama, doorstep and backroom, all-nighters and low-hanging fruit.

I inform you this as a result of, when EU leaders collect in Brussels this week, the menu will probably be set with a very powerful enlargement selections because the finish of the chilly warfare. The selections they make will form the way forward for Europe for a very long time to return. This is much less about authorized technicalities and extra about geopolitics and the European Union’s capability to behave. Enlargement ought to occur sooner fairly than later. At the identical time, we have to ditch conventional paths to membership.


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine has completely cut up Europe. On one aspect of the ideological fence is an remoted, authoritarian, and aggressive Russia that continues to assume and act when it comes to spheres of curiosity. On the opposite aspect are 40 European states – starting from Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova by the Western Balkans to Ireland and the United Kingdom. Most of those nations consider in democracy, worldwide regulation, and cooperation.

Fundamentally, this week is about find out how to organise a brand new Europe. The key’s to make sure that all prepared and in a position European democracies have a transparent and practical path to membership or, if they don’t need to be part of, an alternate type of cooperation. There are some ways to do that. My suggestion is to create a confederal Europe that has three tiers and is versatile and open to all prepared and in a position European states. These three tiers are: the European Union; the European Community; and the European Area.

This mannequin is inclusive, not unique. Which tier a rustic joined would rely by itself decisions and its capability to fulfill the factors.

Three tiers

Under this mannequin, the EU would proceed as is. Its institutional construction would stay the identical. Decision-making would develop into extra environment friendly as there could be no extra requirement for unanimity on all points. The union would develop into extra versatile whereas sustaining its coverage focus. The EU is each a regulator and an actor. It has no finalité; it’s a course of. I don’t see a have to convene an intergovernmental convention on this modification in method. The EU would make the required institutional adjustments by utilizing the so-called passerelle clause.

The European Community would basically be made up of nations that had been negotiating accession, had applicant standing, or had expressed a need to hitch the union. The purpose could be to deliver them nearer to EU decision-making constructions and establishments early on. This would come with the biannual joint European Council, ministerial conferences, and participation in Council working teams with out voting rights. These nations would have extra formal hyperlinks to the European Parliament and the European Commission. They also needs to undertake key insurance policies, such because the European Green Deal and the Common Foreign and Security Policy, at an early stage.

This is about uniting European nations and leaving Russia exterior till it abides by primary worldwide regulation

The European Area would come with nations that didn’t plan to hitch the EU within the close to future. They embrace the UK, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein. Here, the main focus must be on financial and safety cooperation, in addition to nearer institutional linkages. The leaders of all 40 nations ought to meet not less than every year.

Similar fashions have been urged earlier than. My purpose is to hurry up enlargement and create a construction of engagement that might enchantment to not simply the prepared and in a position but in addition the unwilling and unable. This is about uniting European nations and leaving Russia exterior till it abides by primary worldwide regulation.

Peace, prosperity, and stability

Enlargement has all the time been about peace, prosperity, and stability. One ought to by no means underestimate the transformative energy of membership – be it financial or political. Some EU enlargements may need appeared simpler than others, however all of them contain lengthy and sophisticated negotiations.

In the EU, there have historically been nations that assist enlargement and people which might be reluctant to take action. This time, there isn’t any selection. Indecision will result in frustration and instability. There is not any area for petty, low-level tinkering or home politics. This is about excessive politics, peace, and the way forward for Europe.

The EU must be ready to accommodate extra members sooner fairly than later. Yes, this can imply tough selections and compromises. But the reality is that enlargement is the very best geopolitical instrument in a brand new European safety order. The EU has the strategic autonomy and historic obligation to have interaction in it. A confederal Europe would supply an instrument for doing so step by step however with out hesitation.

Alexander Stubb is an ECFR Council member and director and professor on the European University Institute in Florence and former prime minister of Finland.

The European Council on Foreign Relations doesn’t take collective positions. ECFR publications solely symbolize the views of their particular person authors.



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