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Schäuble's view on 'multispeed Europe'

Schäuble's view on 'multispeed Europe'

Prescient portrayal of EU challenges

by David Marsh in Berlin

Tue 28 Mar 2017

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble is a 'a champion of a federalist EU', but his ideas for looser 'multi-speed' governance and 'flexibility in the face of populist hostility' are hardly new.

Some readers may recall a celebrated 12-page September 1994 position paper by two deputies from Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats. The politicians recommended EU changes in the face of 'deep-seated fears' and 'regressive nationalism in (nearly) all member countries' caused by 'deep structural economic changes', 'mass unemployment' and 'external threats such as migration'. In response they favoured institutional 'elasticity and flexibility' and methods of 'variable geometry' and 'multiple speeds' including 'transfer back of competences [to member states]', a strengthening of the 'core' (Germany, France and Benelux) and 'positively influencing clarification of Britain's relationship with Europe'. The authors of this document were Schäuble and his equally farsighted colleague Karl Lamers.

The main difference compared with today lies not in discovery of a 'multi-speed' Europe – which is fairly obvious considering the EU now has 28 members (27 in two years) against 12 in 1994 – but in the much smaller chance (as Schäuble acknowledges) that France will be in any EU 'core'.

The Schäuble-Lamers paper of 1994 presciently portrayed challenges that remain relevant in 2017. By failing to overcome them during the past 23 years, the EU risks losing not just the UK but also (far more important) France.

David Marsh is Managing Director of OMFIF. This letter was previously published in the Financial Times, and republished here with the permission of the author.

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