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Speak about the current system of international relations in Europe.

December 26th, 2011

The Common Market was born into the Cold War. Its founding members were also members of NATO and its aim of integrating the economies of Western Europe was seen as complementary to the objectives of the Atlantic Alliance. That is why American presidents for half a century were happy to encourage European integration. The end of the Cold War changed the dynamic of transatlantic and global relations. Unchallenged American primacy freed Washington from the constraints of alliance building and gave rise to new possibilities celebrated by neo-conservative thinkers as the “unipolar moment”. The “indispensable nation” would act as custodian of the general interest, exercising global leadership on behalf of humanity and discouraging all potential rivals from even aspiring to greater influence.

A flexible Union

Multi-speed Europe. This concept is closest to the original goal set out in the Treaty of Rome of an ?ever closer union? between the peoples of Europe. The element of flexibility relates only to the period of time in which all member states achieve agreed goals. In a ?multi-speed? Europe sub-groups of member states typically decide to integrate more deeply in individual policy areas, while other member states do not yet choose to join them. Such deeper integration could well occur simultaneously in more than one policy area, with varying membership of the different sub-groups. Equally, within the sub-groups themselves, some individual members might well find themselves further advanced towards the shared goal than others.

Variable geometry

At the end of the spectrum, which envisages more permanent levels of variation within European integration, lies the model of a Europe of ‘variable geometry’. This option takes as its starting-point that there will inevitably be substantial differences between the integrative capacities and desires of twenty-five and more member states. It would be surprising if even in the long term these capacities and desires could fully converge. ‘Variable geometry’ therefore envisages a series of different policy areas for the European Union, all of which (apart from the single European market) would have varying membership. This would allow the varying approaches of the EU’s member states to such delicate subjects as monetary policy, foreign policy, defense and tax harmonization to be fully reflected in the policy areas they wished to join. While no country would be excluded from any policy area, it would be fully understood that some countries might never decide to share particular parts of their sovereignty. ‘Variable geometry’ would allow them that option, without inhibiting those who took a different view.

As a concept, ‘variable geometry’ is capable of a number of different expressions. One extreme would be the case in which most member states participated in all European policy areas and only a few opted out of one or other policy area for specific national, historic or cultural reasons. The opposite extreme would be that in which almost no member state participated in all policy areas and many member states had opted out of a wide range of policy areas. The first extreme is not very different from the original unified concept of the Treaty of Rome.

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