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.
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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.
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Matthijs, M., Parsons, C. & Toenshoff, C. Ever tighter union? Brexit, Grexit, and frustrated differentiation in the single market and Eurozone. Comp Eur Polit 17, 209–230 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00165-6
- European Union
- Single market
- United States