Comparative European Politics

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 209–230 | Cite as

Ever tighter union? Brexit, Grexit, and frustrated differentiation in the single market and Eurozone

  • Matthias MatthijsEmail author
  • Craig Parsons
  • Christina Toenshoff
Original Article


Many European political leaders and observers have argued that the European Union’s multiple recent challenges call for more “differentiated integration.” At first glance, the EU may seem to lend itself quite well to such an approach, with already variegated memberships in the Euro area or Schengen borderless travel zone. What proponents of differentiation tend to overlook, however, is that the Union’s core commitments are not set up to permit much internal variation at all. Indeed, in the EU’s two flagship policy areas—the Single Market and the Eurozone—the defining institutional principles rule out differentiation to a striking degree. To substantiate this claim, we show that the rules in these areas are considerably more constraining of EU member states than are analogous federal constraints within the USA. We then highlight how these tightly limiting principles of EU economic governance have shaped recent negotiations with Greece in the Eurozone and the UK in the Single Market. While the EU’s core constraining principles make calls for differentiation all the more comprehensible, they also underscore that differentiated options may require rather fundamental change to the current institutional status quo.


Differentiation European Union Eurozone Integration Single market United States 



The authors would like to thank Vivien Schmidt, Sergio Fabbrini, Mark Pollack, Dan Kelemen, Chris Bickerton, Fritz Scharpf, Jolyon Howorth, Erik Jones, Frank Schimmelfennig, as well as two anonymous reviewers, for very helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. The usual disclaimer applies: the authors remain solely responsible for any errors or omissions.


  1. Arnett, G., and A. Galatsidas. 2015. Greek referendum: full results. The Guardian, 6 July,
  2. Augenstein, D. (ed.). 2013. Integration through Law Revisited: The Making of the European Polity. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  3. Barnard, C. 2008. Unravelling the Services Directive. Common Market Law Review 45: 323–394.Google Scholar
  4. Barnier, M. 2017. cited in BBC News (2017) Brexit: UK to leave single market, says Theresa May. 17 January,
  5. Barnier, M. 2018. Speech at the US Council on Foreign Relations. New York. Cited in Johnson, B. (2018) Farage vows return while Barnier reiterates indivisibility of EU’s four freedoms as Brussels reacts to Theresa May’s Brexit proposals. The Parliament Magazine, 11 July.Google Scholar
  6. BBC. 2014. EU migrant curbs should be ‘temporary’ says Major. 16 November,
  7. Blockmans, S. 2017. The uncertain future of the European Union. International Politics and Society, 3 March,
  8. Bork, R., and D. Troy. 2002. Locating the Boundaries: The Scope of Congress’s Power to Regulate Commerce. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 25(3): 849–893.Google Scholar
  9. Buchanan, J.M. 1965. An Economic Theory of Clubs. Economica 32(125): 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bundesministerium für Finanzen. 2015. Comments on the latest Greek proposals. 10 July.Google Scholar
  11. Buzbee, W. (ed.). 2008. Preemption Choice: The Theory, Law, and Reality of Federalism’s Core Question. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cameron, D. 2013. EU speech at Bloomberg. London, 23 January.Google Scholar
  13. Cameron, D. 2014. JBC Staffordshire: Prime Minister’s speech. Staffordshire, 28 November.Google Scholar
  14. Cameron, D. 2015a. Speech at the European Council. Brussels, 26 June.Google Scholar
  15. Cameron, D. 2015b. A New Settlement for the United Kingdom in a Reformed European Union. Letter to Donald Tusk, 10 November.Google Scholar
  16. Cappelletti, M., M. Seccombe, and J. Weiler (eds.). 1986. Integration through Law: Europe and the American Federal Experience., vol. 1. Brussels: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  17. Conservatives. 2015. The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015.Google Scholar
  18. Davies, P. 1997. Posted Workers: Single Market or Protection of National Labour Law Systems. Common Market Law Review 34: 571–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Witte, D. 2007. “How Did Services Get to Bolkestein and Why?” EUI Working Paper Law 2007/20. Florence: European University Institute.Google Scholar
  20. Dyson, K., and M. Marcussen. 2010. Transverse Integration in European Economic Governance. Journal of European Integration 32(1): 17–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Economist. 2017. Differentiate or bust: Europe’s future is multi-speed and multi-tier. 23 March,
  22. Egan, M. 2015. Single Markets: Economic Integration in Europe and the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Epstein, R., and M. Greve (eds.). 2007. Federal Preemption: States’ Powers, National Interests. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press.Google Scholar
  24. European Commission. 2015a. Statement on behalf of the European Commission by Jonathan Hill on the capital controls imposed by the Greek authorities. Press Release Database, 29 June.Google Scholar
  25. European Commission. 2017. White Paper on the Future of Europe: Reflections and Scenarios for the EU27 by 2025. Brussels, 1 March,
  26. European Commission. 2018. Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. Accessed 3 Aug 2018.
  27. European Commission, Hellenic Republic and Bank of Greece. 2015. Memorandum of Understanding. 19 August,
  28. European Commission, ECB and IMF. 2015. List which takes account of the proposals of the Greek authorities received on 8, 14, 22 and 25 June. 26 June 20h00.Google Scholar
  29. European Council. 2017. European Council (Art. 50) guidelines for Brexit Negotiations. 29 April,
  30. Fabbrini, F. 2013. The Fiscal Compact, the “Golden Rule”, and the Paradox of European Federalism. Boston College International and Comparative Law Review 36(1): 1–38.Google Scholar
  31. Fabbrini, S. 2019. Alternative Governance Models: ‘Hard Core’ in a Plural Europe. Comparative European Politics 17(2).Google Scholar
  32. Gotev, G. 2017. ‘Junker’s real scenario’ is multi-speed Europe. Euractiv, 1 March,
  33. Grice, A. 2013. David Cameron rushes in curbs on the rights of migrants to claim benefits to head off backbench revolt. Independent, 18 December,
  34. Hatzopoulos, V. 2012. Regulating Services in the European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Henning, R., and M. Kessler. 2012. Fiscal Federalism: US History for Architects of Europe’s Fiscal Union.Google Scholar
  36. HM Government. 2018. Statement from HM Government. Chequers, 6 July.Google Scholar
  37. Hoffmann, L. 2011. Land of the Free, Home of the (Un)regulated: A Look at Market-building and Liberalization in the EU and the US. Eugene: University of Oregon.Google Scholar
  38. International Monetary Fund. 2015. Press Release: Statement by the IMF on Greece. Press Release No.15/310, June 30.Google Scholar
  39. Jabko, N. 2006. Playing the Market: A Political Strategy for Uniting Europe, 1985–2005. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Jacoby, W. 2015. Europe’s New German Problem: The Timing of Politics and the Politics of Timing. In The Future of the Euro, ed. M. Matthijs and M. Blyth, 187–209. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Johnson, B. 2016. I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe—and always will be. Telegraph, 26 June.Google Scholar
  42. Julander, T. 2002. State Resident Preference Statutes and the Market Participant Exemption to the Dormant Commerce Clause. Whittier Law Review 24: 541–593.Google Scholar
  43. Kelemen, R.D., and S. Schmidt. 2011. The European Court of Justice and legal integration: perpetual momentum? Journal of European Public Policy 19(1): 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kohler, W., and G. Müller. 2017. Brexit, the Four Freedoms, and the Indivisibility Dogma., posted 8 November 2017.Google Scholar
  45. Kwasniewski, N. 2015. Vorschläge der Euro-Gruppe: Der Katalog der Grausamkeiten. Spiegel Online, 12 December,
  46. Lambert, H. 2015. Exclusive: Yanis Varoufakis opens up about his five month battle to save Greece. New Statesman, 13 July,
  47. Majone, G. 2014. Rethinking the Union of Europe Post-Crisis: Has Integration Gone too far?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Matthijs, M. 2013. David Cameron’s Dangerous Game. Foreign Affairs 92 (5), September/October: 10–16.Google Scholar
  49. Matthijs, M. 2016. Powerful Rules Governing the Euro: The Perverse Logic of German Ideas. Journal of European Public Policy 23(3): 375–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Matthijs, M. 2017a. Europe After Brexit. Foreign Affairs 96(1): 85–95.Google Scholar
  51. Matthijs, M. 2017b. Integration at What Price? The Erosion of National Democracy in the Euro Periphery. Government and Opposition 52(2): 266–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Matthijs, M., and M. Blyth (eds.). 2015a. The Future of the Euro. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Matthijs, M., and M. Blyth. 2018. When Is It Rational to Learn the Wrong Lessons? Technocratic Authority, Social Learning, and Euro Fragility. Perspectives on Politics 16(1): 110–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. May, T. 2017. Lancaster House Speech. London, 17 January.Google Scholar
  55. May, T. 2018. Mansion House Speech on future UK-EU relations. London, 2 March.Google Scholar
  56. McSmith, A. 2014. Cameron is warned ‘no possibility’ of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal. Independent, 19 October, as-cameron-is-warned-quota-on-migrant-9804464.html.
  57. Merkel, A. 2016. Merkel: Es wird keine Rosinenpickerei geben. Bundestag, 28 June.
  58. Merler, S. 2015. Greece Budget Update. Brussels: Bruegel. 16 July.
  59. Moravcsik, A. 1998. The Choice for Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Moravcsik, A. 1999. A New Statecraft? Supranational Entrepreneurs and International Cooperation. International Organization 53(2): 267–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Moravcsik, A. 2002. Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union. Journal of Common Market Studies 40(4): 603–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Minister of Finance Hellenic Republic. 2015a. Letter requesting stability support, 8 July,
  63. Minister of Finance Hellenic Republic. 2015b. Greece: Prior Actions, Policy Commitments and Actions to be taken in consultation with EC/ECB/IMF staff. 9 July,
  64. Ministry of Finance Hellenic Republic. 2015c. A Policy Framework for Greece’s Fiscal Consolidation, Recovery and Growth. 11 May.Google Scholar
  65. Ministry of Finance Hellenic Republic. 2015d. Ending the Greek Crisis: Structural Reforms, Investment-led Growth and Debt Management. 11 June.Google Scholar
  66. Nicolaïdis, K., and S. Schmidt. 2007. Mutual Recognition ‘On Trial’: The Long Road to Services Liberalization. Journal of European Public Policy 14(5): 717–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Office for National Statistics. 2018. Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: July 2018.Google Scholar
  68. Newman, A. 2015. The Reluctant Leader: Germany’s Euro Experience and the Long Shadow of Reunification.Google Scholar
  69. Matthijs, M., and M. Blyth (eds.). 2015. The Future of the Euro. New York: Oxford University Press, 117–135.Google Scholar
  70. Parker, G., and A. Barker. 2018. May Brexit speech keeps government intact but faces frosty EU response.Google Scholar
  71. Parsons, C. 2003. A Certain Idea of Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Regan, D. 1986. The Supreme Court and Protectionism: Making Sense of the Dormant Commerce Clause. Michigan Law Review 84(6): 1091–1287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Russack, S. 2017. How is Juncker’s ‘last-chance Commission’ faring at mid-term? CEPS European Policy Analysis, Issue 2017:4,
  74. Sandbu, M. 2015. Europe’s Orphan: The Future of the Euro and the Politics of Debt. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schimmelfennig, F. 2019. The Choice for Differentiated Europe: An Intergovernmentalist Theoretical Framework. Comparative European Politics 17(2).Google Scholar
  76. Schimmelfennig, F., and T. Winzen. 2014. Instrumental and Constitutional Differentiation in the European Union. Journal of Common Market Studies 52(2): 354–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schmidt, V. 2019. The Future of Differentiated Integration: a ‘Soft-Core,’ multi-clustered Europe of Overlapping Policy Communities. Comparative European Politics 17(2).Google Scholar
  78. Schütze, R. 2009. From Dual to Cooperative Federalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sinn, H.W. 2017. Für Deutschland ist der Brexit verheerend. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 March 2017.Google Scholar
  80. Spiegel. 2014. Rote Linie, roter Kopf. Issue 45/2014.Google Scholar
  81. Stubb, A. 1996. A Categorisation of Differential Integration. Journal of Common Market Studies 34(2): 283–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Syriza. 2014. The Thessaloniki Programme. 13 September,—THE-THESSALONIKI-PROGRAMME.html.
  83. Tate, J. 2001. National varieties of standardization. In Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, ed. P. Hall and D. Soskice, 442–473. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Traynor, I. 2012. David Cameron’s moves could make EU fall apart, says Herman Van Rompuy. The Guardian, 27 December,
  85. Visegrad Group. 2015. Joint Statement of the Visegrad Group Countries. Brussels, 7 December.Google Scholar
  86. Weiler, J. 2000. Epilogue: Towards a Common Law of International Trade. In The EU, the WTO, and the NAFTA: Towards a Common Law of International Trade, ed. J. Weiler, 201–229. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Winzen, T. 2016. From Capacity to Sovereignty: Legislative Politics and Differentiated Integration in the European Union. European Journal of Political Research 55(1): 100–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Waterfield, B. 2013. José Manuel Barroso: David Cameron’s plan to claw back powers from the EU is ‘doomed to failure.’ Telegraph, 2 October,
  89. Withnall, A. 2014. Iain Duncan Smith wants two-year ban on immigrant welfare—but Brussels says EU will block attempts to rewrite rules. Independent, 12 January,

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias Matthijs
    • 1
    Email author
  • Craig Parsons
    • 2
  • Christina Toenshoff
    • 3
  1. 1.Johns Hopkins UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of OregonEugeneUSA
  3. 3.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations