The European Liberal Forum in collaboration with the Institute for Politics and Society and the Delegation of Prague to the EU organized a debate called Multi-speed Europe. The debate was held on the 7th November in Prague House, Brussels.
Our invitation was accepted by distinguished guests including Věra Jourová, European Commissioner, ALDE, Pavel Svoboda, Member of the European Parliament, EPP, Ivan Hodač, Vice President of the ASPEN Institute, Dita Charanzová, Member of the European Parliament, ALDE, Martin Povejšil, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU, Roland Freudenstein, Policy Director, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and Hans H. Stein, Director European and Transatlantic Dialogue, Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
Jan Macháček, moderator of the debate and the chairman of the Institute for Politics and Society opened the program by reflecting on two important speeches delivered on the future of Europe namely the speeches by Jean Claude Juncker and Emmanuel Macron. These two very important and influential politicians seem to have rather contradicting stands. Juncker on one hand refused to accept the concept of multispeed Europe, arguing that the aim should be Eurozone and Schengen for everybody with no special minister or budget. Whilst Macron, with a bit of oversimplification, claimed the opposite stating that those who wish to integrate more should be allowed to do so.
Věra Jourová offered her opinion on how she understood the speeches and sees the concept of Multi-speed Europe from the Czech perspective. She emphasized the importance of the positive tone in Macron´s speech. Setting a tone which stopped the bad mood and gave some hope even if the audience did not necessarily agree with him. As for the multi-speed Europe, Mrs Jourová stated that the Czech Republic should stop waiting for the options to be offered but instead try to create the options for itself. “We should try to determine the speed and set the agenda ourselves. “It is also necessary to start talking about what will be in the next Treaty”. Her suggestion was to keep Zone 1 (including the basic values) and Zone 2 (including the single market, security, freedom of movement and digital single market) where member states should be able to create sensible alliances and try to find support for their ideas and interests. Mrs Jourová explained that Eurozone should be included in Zone 3 where she believes the Czech Republic should belong and Zone 4 should include areas of cooperation where either unanimous decisions should be taken or member states have the freedom to decide whether they want to follow the agenda or not. In this zone there should be no multispeed, as it would create chaos and could destroy the level of trust.
According to Pavel Svoboda there are multiple speeds already. He suggested that for multi-speed Europe a new institutional framework would have to be put in place for it to be successful. The current position of the European Parliament is that reform is needed in order to adjust the competencies to current challenges. Svoboda concluded that this has continental support but would require the treaties to be reopened.
Ivan Hodač also appreciated that Macron presents himself as a leader, “even if you disagree with him you still have to appreciate his positive tone”. Mr Hodač is sick of the Czech position “let´s wait and see.” From the point of the business community, a functioning EU including a single market with 4 freedoms is needed. Mr Hodač stated that above all business wants a functioning EU, and if multispeed could guarantee that then it would be acceptable. Two- speed Europe is according to him the beginning of the end. A statement which Mr Povejšil agreed with and added that Macron not excluding this idea is quite scary.
The next speaker was Dita Charanzová who explained how Macron´s speech may have been very different if Brexit was not happening as this has started a dialogue of questioning the basic principles and values on which the EU stands. Highlighting the importance of how we frame and present things to the public, Mrs Charanzová urged for Multi-speed Europe as a plan B and if it happened for it to be as inclusive as possible because there is still one Union.
Hans H. Stein disagreed with the narrative supporting the idea that Germany and France are in the center and the rest is the periphery. He always considered all member states equal and is in favour of open debate where everyone can speak out. Nevertheless, Mr Stein admitted that recent elections have proven that business as usual is over and suggested talking about multi-speed Europe in a more creative way as it is often the member states who block propositions which are in favour of what people seem to want the EU to do. Concluding that Schengen wouldn’t be a reality if we wait for all member states to be ready and highlighting the importance of Europe as an inclusive project, which others can join when they can.