I’m Professor Laura Cram. I’m the Professor of European Politics at Edinburgh University and a Senior Fellow in The UK in a Changing Europe programme. So, Laura, ‘ever closer union’ is a phrase that’s been mentioned many times in the referendum debate. But what does it actually mean? Ah, well, that would be a nice one if it was an easy question. But ever closer union is part of, in a way, what has been the typical story of the European project, which is that it means, to different countries and to different individuals, different things.
And, in order to bring together the now 28 Member States of the European Union, it was essential to find something that gave them a sense of commonality, but also enough room for manoeuvre within that to be able to go back and each sell it individually to their own public audiences. And, so ever closer union, in many senses, means a lot to some, and almost nothing to others. Some people might argue that the EU’s solution to every problem seems to ‘more Europe’. How much truth is there in that claim? Well, again, that’s quite an interesting one.
The first thing is: what is the EU? Because what is the ‘EU’s solution’? And, when we’re talking about the EU, typically it’s talked about as if it were something ‘over there’ - something different. But actually the EU is made up of the Member State governments and their representatives. So, that again - the solution to what the EU wants is different according to different circumstances. One thing that there’s certainly a truth in is that, as you integrate in one area, you very often do find that there’s a need for some kind of complementary policy. So, if you implement a policy, say, in agriculture, you might need some kind of complementary policy that allows you to move, say, cattle, around.
So that can appear as if it’s a deliberate intention to grow, but it’s certainly not that on the part of all of the actors that are involved. Going forward, how likely is it that we will see the development of a multi-speed Europe, where some countries integrate more and faster than others? I think you could really say, Anthony, we already have a multi-speed Europe and have had really for a very, very long time. To try and get 28 Member States to move together all at exactly the same pace would always be almost impossible.
Even things like when new Member States come on board, we very often give them different timescales and abilities to join the euro later, or, in the case of something like the UK, the ability never to join the EU… the euro if it doesn’t want to. So, yeah, certainly, if the UK stays in, you will continue to see an exacerbation of the multi-speed Europe process. But you could really say the EU always has been a multi-speed process. The EU is faced with many challenges at the moment - from the migration situation in the Mediterranean, to the threat of terrorism, to the remnants of the Eurocrisis.
To what extent have countries worked together on these issues, or are we seeing them go back more to national policies? Yeah, again, there’s this issue of what the European Union is. The European Union always has been an amalgam of national policies. And, wherever there’s something thorny, it tends to be led at the national level rather than at the supranational level, at the EU level. So, when you do see a crisis, something like the Eurozone crisis, where already not all your Member States are part of that movement in the first place, then you see different levels of engagement between, for example, the Northern and the Southern economies, then, yes, you do see a clear emphasis of the national.
But, at the same point, that’s within the fact that they’re trying to find a European-level solution. And you see something very, very similar with migration. In a way, the national differences are highlighted by the fact that there is some kind of attempt to get a European Union-level solution to those problems. The EU Member States have been integrating with each other since the project began. Are they now so entwined that further integration is inevitable? Well, I think the referendum in the UK is showing that that’s not the case. For some, when they started out the project, that was really the idea.
The idea was, particularly in the context of warfare, that if you could tie together the economies of these various, disparate European nations, then you would make it impossible - they would become so intertwined that they could never go to war with one another again. And one sincerely hopes that will be the case, whether or not we’re members of the European Union, or whether the European Union continued or not. But, certainly, we know that it is possible to disentangle. You’ll probably still have to reknit certain relationships with the different European states, but, no, I don’t think you can talk about inevitability anymore.