by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 12
May 2022
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07:00

The UK should join Macron’s EU Lite

The French President has proposed a new geography for Europe
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

This week, Emmanuel Macron proposed a new geography for Europe. Instead of the binary choice of EU membership or non-membership, there’d be a third option for countries to join what François Mitterrand once called a “European Confederation.”

This would be a kind of EU Lite. Candidates for membership wouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops to get in — but also wouldn’t get the financial support that full EU membership provides to poorer countries. 

Macron has realised that the renewed political drive towards EU expansion is at odds with basic economic feasibility. There is no way that a country as big and poor as Ukraine could be included without putting the EU budget under intolerable strain.

And it’s not just about money. Other events this week show that Europe must either adopt a more flexible structure or seize-up altogether. For instance, EU member states like Hungary and Bulgaria have threatened to veto the EU proposed oil sanctions on Russia. The German foreign minister has responded by calling for the right of veto to be abolished. European foreign policy “can no longer be held hostage” he said. 

It would be a lot easier for the core EU states to pursue “ever closer union” if the other members — especially the ex-communist states — weren’t obliged to come along for the ride. But, of course, that would require a Europe in which countries could move at different speeds towards integration. 

As the UK-Swedish and UK-Finnish security agreements signed yesterday demonstrates Europe could become more, not less, co-operative if every country wasn’t required to make exactly the same set of commitments. Each country could bring to the table what it felt it could best offer. 

I’d love to think that these are sentiments that lie behind Macron’s big idea. However, I have my doubts. In place of a genuine commitment to flexibility, the goal may be the creation of an outer ring of vassal states — to be dictated to by an EU that still uses trade as an instrument of control. Furthermore, as well as a way of keeping the likes of Ukraine at arms length, I suspect that this intermediate Europe would become a dumping ground for countries like Poland — thrown out of the EU proper for defying Brussels. 

I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that — and that Macron really does see that cooperation not coercion is the way forward for Europe. However, it’s best not to take any chances. If there is to be a European third way between one-size-fits-all EU membership and the outer darkness, then it should be UK policy to begin building it.

The security agreements with Poland, Hungary and now Sweden are an excellent starting point, but should not be the end of our ambitions. After all, it’s our continent too.

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R Wright
R Wright
10 days ago

The EU had their chance for a multi speed Europe. It was in February 2016, when they humiliated the British PM and sent him home with some embarrassing concessions. Enough.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
7 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

This is just to give France an excuse for keeping Ukraine and others out, and keep Putin happy.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 days ago

The EU Commission could call it something like “the EEC” in order to lure unwitting nations onto the edge of their web.

Last edited 10 days ago by Ian Barton
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 days ago

“Macron has realised that the renewed political drive towards EU expansion is at odds with basic economic feasibility”.
It’s not just about economic feasibility. It’s legal too, i.e. the current treaty structure. Failing to completely reform that before doing the 2004 enlargement is the root of so many problems in the EU today.
“However, I have my doubts. In place of a genuine commitment to flexibility, the goal may be the creation of an outer ring of vassal states — to be dictated to by an EU that still uses trade as an instrument of control”.
No s***, Sherlock. Even 5 years ago, I would have jumped at the chance for the UK to join something like this. But the EU made such a song and dance about “no cherry-picking” during the Brexit negotiations (it’s still doing this with CH, with no better results) and otherwise took every single opportunity to kick Britain in the teeth and humiliate it that now, I just think you can take your affiliate membership and stick it where the sun don’t shine.
As soon as I heard this idea, I knew that the UK will be subject to some really high-handed treatment in the coming months (key word: Protocol) to try and force it too accept entry into the “outer ring”. Never try and persuade when you can use brute force seems to be the EU’s motto – and how well it works! Sarcasm off.
It might be a suitable compromise for Scotland though, if they manage to become (and survive as) as independent state…
“…I suspect that this intermediate Europe would become a dumping ground for countries like Poland — thrown out of the EU proper for defying Brussels”.
You do know that countries can’t be “thrown out” of the EU, right? And Poland & Hungary are about as likely to trigger Article 50 of their own volition as I am of becoming the next president of the EU Commission.

Last edited 10 days ago by Katharine Eyre
Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
10 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Well, I’d vote for you Katherine. Oh, hang on…

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 days ago

My suspicion is that unless the EU Lite is devoid of central EU control there would be continual pressure for counties in the EU Lite to join in the ‘ever closer union’. A border control agreement here, a trade alignment there, and suddenly the full strength EU has incorporated new countries without all the brouhaha of official entry.
The present EU is very much a New Hanseatic League driven by protecting its own trade. It wouldn’t be able to passively standby and allow Lite members to follow their own trading concerns. Big businesses in the EU might suffer – or even move their headquarters to the EU Lite.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
10 days ago

You say that there would be created an outer ring of vassal states without considering that this has already happened – Ireland on its tax rates, Poland/Hungary on their constitutional wrangling, southern europe still crippled from the debt crisis. There was already a two-tiered EU of which the UK was an upper member. A good article in spite of this blind spot. This is Macron as a French leader trying to wrest Europe away from Germany. The Germans are not going to let this happen even with a more weak-willed German leader than Merkel.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 days ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Calling Olaf Scholz a “leader” is a bit optimistic, I’d say.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
10 days ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Germany should have been broken up as per the Morgenthau Plan of 1944. The failure to do so was a dereliction of duty.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
10 days ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

What I particularly enjoy about the “Rejoiners” continuous Greek chorus of doom post-referendum, is that they seem not to have listened to a word Macron has been saying about the EU since he became France’s leader. They live in a pre-June 2016 timewarp where the EU is preserved in aspic, so perfect is it’s construction.
I too enjoyed the article. The two-tiers were already there when Cameron asked for minor concessions. Madness that it led to a situation where UK disengaged, but compromise was never possible with a combination of the vastly over-rated Merkel, pathetic Hollande and a spiteful Brussels bureaucracy.
The petty treatment of British PM’s in subsequent years afterwards, especially Teresa May, mean this Brit will certainly never trust that organisation again in my lifetime.
But – I do think this latest moment of “thinking out loud” is something that should be explored whilst noting we are light years away from feeling able to trust Brussels ever again. We must also be careful not to turn our backs on new trading partners, especially given the Commonwealth, mindful of the Queen’s health.
US seems to have lost it’s collective mind, so to me exploring common interest with Europe and the Commonwealth makes a lot more sense than not. Security, rolling back Climate communism plus creating a better engine of growth in reliable Eastern Europe partners, will allow us to take advantage of a Russia and China who are both on the back foot at the moment.
Finally, whilst Unherd writer John Lichfield can try one’s patience, his article on the “left-wing” alliance being floated in France serves as a warning of the inherent dangers in all European countries with a similar social make-up. This is a time for centre and centre-right countries with common interest to engage, not disengage.

Bill W
Bill W
10 days ago

i wouldn’t trust the French government.

JP Martin
JP Martin
10 days ago
Reply to  Bill W

Why would you trust any government?

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
10 days ago

Why is there this urge to form a union, lite, heavy, (“hevi?”) or any other sort? Most of the countries of the world have struggled towards independence, to determine their own affairs, and are very proud to have achieved it. There’s nothing against working groups for specific purposes, such as NATO, or free trade clubs, but this urge to govern somebody else (France, Germany) or to be governed by somebody else (Greece, Italy;) I don’t get it – other than the money if you are a poor country.
But what a price is paid for a bit of economic support. Most sadly of all, to me, is the Republic of Ireland. All those years of painful and violent struggle for independence, another 50 years of poverty; then, as the brave Irish emerged at last as as a free and economically successful country, they throw themselves into a union and loss of sovereignty for no reason at all. Tragic

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 days ago

Macron should stop the EU waffle and get on with a UK trade deal.

paul alexander
paul alexander
7 days ago

The UK didn’t want one. Remember?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
10 days ago

How much will Brussels charge us for joining “EU lite”?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 days ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

£39 billion?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 days ago

The concept is good, as it accepts that there can be substantial differences between one member and another. A looser EU which wasn’t always acting so as to achieve a federal state would have been attractive to many who voted Leave.
But I have my doubts, too, and suspect an ulterior motive, which is to keep the outer countries bound to the EU’s market and limited in markets outside, perhaps preventing unilateral trade negotiation.
I also suspect that ‘access’ would involve a ‘contribution’, and in the UK’s case, I believe it would be substantial.
I believe this because of the many acts and statements over the last few years.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
10 days ago

Haven’t ‘we’ been here before with the European Free Trade Association-EFTA?

Matt M
Matt M
10 days ago

If we ever did form an alliance we should invite non-European countries in from the start otherwise it will end up being dominated by the EU.

A CANZUK/EFTA club might be a good start.

Rupert Steel
Rupert Steel
9 days ago

Macron has played and lost during the Ukraine war. His efforts to deal himself in as the broker in pre-war negotiations with Putin failed completely. There is now a very small group of nations who are critical to the future of European security and consequently, prosperity. These are the US, UK, Poland and to some extent, Germany. France is only there as a self-interested spoiler. It follows that this latest foreign policy initiative from Paris should be ignored.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
10 days ago

?

Last edited 10 days ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
10 days ago

It would be a lot easier for the core EU states to pursue “ever closer union” if the other members — especially the ex-communist states — weren’t obliged to come along for the ride

The problem is it’s still a march towards ever closer union. What (if anything) is needed is a cooperation structure that does not compel every member towards union and allows independent states to trade profitably and without barriers – something like.. shall we call it a free trade agreement?

Rob Mcneill-wilson
Rob Mcneill-wilson
10 days ago

This is to enable the Quislings to resume the relentless, creeping surrender of sovereignty to an alien, unelected, anti-democratic, neo-Marxist entity.

Neil Ross
Neil Ross
9 days ago

Except Macron will only see this Organisation as an extension of the EU and therefore to be controlled and dominated by the EU. It will not work!

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
7 days ago

Jeez Peter, looks like you’ve just come up the Seine on a banana boat.
Are you really that naive to posit this as reasonable knowing the EU’s instinct to dominate and create self serving barriers?

David Giles
David Giles
10 days ago

He’s So Fine, The Chiffons, 1962; My Sweet Lord, George Harrison, 1971.

“A looser Europe”, Nigel Farage, circa 2010; “Europe Lite” Manu Macron and Peter Franklin, 2022.

Write out the cheque for the copywrite infringement Peter. And please, take offence; be very offended.

mike otter
mike otter
10 days ago

Got one already – EEA – EFTA Norway, Suisse etc. A Swede once told me its easier to export to the moon than Norway so prob not helpful. Anyway there is already a multi-national organisation perfectly suited to France’s political and economic systems. Its called the OAS and the entry barrier is pretty low from what i can see.

M. M.
M. M.
10 days ago

Peter Franklin wrote, “There is no way that a country as big and poor as Ukraine could be included without putting the EU budget under intolerable strain.”

European-Union (EU) Lite is a mistake.

The regular EU membership ensures that a country is Western before it can join the EU. This strictness encourages countries to become Western. By contrast, EU Lite encourages a country to fall short of Western standards.

Currently, Ukraine is not a Western nation. The Ukrainians have been so corrupt and incompetent that the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of Ukraine in 2019 was actually less than the GDP per capita (at purchasing-power parity) in 1991.

We must not lower standards due to being swayed by our sadness about the Ukrainians being brutalized by Russian soldiers. If the Ukrainians cannot meet the standard of regular EU membership, then we must prohibit them from joining the EU.

Allowing non-Westerners into the EU would harm European society in the same way that allowing non-Westerners (e.g., Hispanics) into the United States has harmed American society. The damage to the EU would be permanent.

Get more info about this issue.

Last edited 10 days ago by Matthew M.
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

I don’t believe that Ukrainians were worse off in 2019 than they were in 1991, despite the diversion of resources following the invasions of 2014. There is corruption, yes, as there is in several EU countries, too.
I remember well talking to a Ukrainian ~2016; he said he and his friends yearned to leave the Russian way of doing things behind, including widespread corruption, and become more like the UK (where we were standing), or other EU members.
It isn’t, of course, a poor country, which is one reason Putin wishes to reabsorb it, and given a market economy and improved governance, should prosper. I am very sad that that man’s hopes have been destroyed.

Last edited 10 days ago by Colin Elliott
Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
10 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

I’d like to comment as someone who believes that levels of immigration should be strictly controlled. Hispanics in the US are indeed the largest (and growing!) minority group, but typically are law-abiding, good families, very hard-working, and serve as drivers of the economy. We could do worse have our Hispanic population here, you know.

M. M.
M. M.
10 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

At 17% of the overall population, Hispanics commit 22% of all murders in the United States.

Suppose that we calculate the percentages after omitting non-Hispanic Africans from the overall population. Then, Hispanics constitute 20% of the overall population but commit 37% of all murders. Hispanics commit murder at 3 times and 6 times the rate at which European-Americans and Asian-Americans, respectively, commit murder.

The countries in Latin America have high rates of violent crime and are the source of Hispanic immigration to the United States.

Get more info about this issue.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
10 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

Odd, because Spain’s ‘murder rate per million’ is below that of France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden etc and only just above the blessed Switzerland!

Perhaps it has something to do with US Gun culture?

paul alexander
paul alexander
7 days ago

A wise idea, perhaps saving us from the worst of the Brexit economic fallout. A 15% fall in UK share of world trade should be worrying Brexiteers. Waving Union Jacks won’t save us. Better access to the single market certainly would.