I have commented, before, on the need, which I believe is a pressing need, for a restructured Europe. I have used the analogy of a layer cake with one big, ‘bottom’ or ‘base’ layer that is some sort of larger free(er) trade area, and progressing up to a much smaller, exclusive, ‘top’ layer that has e.g. a common currency and, necessarily, closely harmonized fiscal policies, free movement of capital and people across almost invisible borders and, very possibly, common foreign and defence policies, too.
Now, an article in the Financial Times reports that “In the Palace of Versailles on Monday night, François Hollande, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, with their Spanish and Italian counterparts … outlined their vision for a union à plusieurs vitesses … [during which discussions] … Mr Hollande said: “Unity is not uniformity.” Ms Merkel said: “A Europe of different speeds is necessary, otherwise we will probably get stuck” … [but] … In fact it was Willy Brandt, one of Ms Merkel’s predecessors, who coined the multispeed term in 1974 — just a year after Britain joined. It has since come to reflect the legal reality of a union that long ago gave up on the practice of moving as one … [because] … The euro, the Schengen border-free travel area, home affairs issues, patent and fiscal rules — in all these policies the EU already accommodates flexible coalitions of countries pursuing integration at different paces, or in some cases opting out of it altogether. “It’s an issue that’s been on the table more or less forever,” said Carl Bildt, the former Swedish premier.” This is sometimes called “Europe à la carte” and the notion finds varying degrees if favour and disfavour inside the EU.
Obviously, given my earlier comments, I favour the idea … in fact I think it might be essential if the European idea is to survive, at all.
My concern is that I think Mrs Merkel and the leaders of France, Italy and Spain make strange ~ in fact fiscally and monetarily impossible ~ bedfellows.
In my opinion a reformed, revitalized Europe may need, at least, two towers, all resting on the big, broad, free(er) trade area base. I do not believe that the current €-zone, for example, can continue to exist when states as fiscally diverse as prudent, responsible Austria, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, on the one hand, for example, must coexist with states as prone to fudging the numbers as, say, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, on the other. A third and even fourth tower may be needed to accommodate e.g the Baltic states and the Balkans, and others. My layer cake may need to be a lot more complicated if it is to be able to accommodate so many differing social and political needs and systems.
This makes the base all the more important. As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been quoted as saying (also in the Financial Times), the real, core, “united Europe” may want to embrace a new system in which “A lot of policymaking could be renationalised as part of a plan in which the EU’s 27 remaining countries could “do less more efficiently” and act more decisively on a smaller range of common priorities.” Many smaller, national or multi-national towers, in other words, resting on one big, solid base that probably includes all of Europe, even, maybe, Russia and Norway and the whole of the Council of Europe. That, in turn, must be part of an even larger base of free(er) trading groups of nations like ASEAN and NAFTA and perhaps the RCEP, which, as it might include both China and India, may be the most important of all.
For Canada this is an opportunity to advance our own free(er) trade agenda.