Polish president Andrzej Duda has criticised the idea of a “multi-speed” Europe, warning that a bloc with different classes of members would lose its attraction and eventually collapse.
Since the UK voted to leave the EU, European leaders have been casting around for ways to ease political tensions within the bloc and give the EU project fresh impetus; a “multi-speed” model of European integration has been mooted as one solution.
The European Commission in March set out several possible scenarios for the EU’s future, including one where “coalitions” of willing countries would forge ahead, suggesting such an approach would preserve political unity.
The concept has won support from some European capitals, including Berlin, but has aroused deep concerns among the EU’s newer members from central and eastern Europe. On Tuesday, Mr Duda warned that a multi-speed bloc would undermine the fundamental idea of the EU that was “supposed to be a union of equals” and ultimately lead to the “collapse” of the union.
“If the EU formally becomes a union of different speeds it would in effect be formally divided into better and worse members and it would to a large extent lose its attractiveness for those countries that were deemed second class,” he said.
Speaking during a debate with the presidents of Georgia and Macedonia at an economic conference in southern Poland, Mr Duda argued that for Poland, part of the appeal of the EU was “thanks to our membership we have become a fully fledged member of the political union of the west”.
“If now we were going to go back and find ourselves in ‘category B’, for Poles that would mean a reduction in the attractiveness of the EU,” he said.
“In addition the EU would become less attractive for those aspiring to join it . . . It would mean one would have to go through many stages to get to the centre where some countries stick together and think that they are better.”
Mr Duda’s scepticism was echoed by Gjorge Ivanov, the Macedonian president, who said that a two-speed Europe did not make sense “even as a metaphor”, pointing out that it was not possible for a train to move at two speeds.
“In a restaurant called Europe . . . [it means that] some countries will be around the table, and others will be on the menu,” he added.
Both Macedonia and Georgia have aspirations to join the EU. During a wide-ranging debate, Mr Duda said that the EU should remain open to accepting new members because striving to meet the EU’s membership criteria often led countries to overhaul and improve their economies.
He also said that the EU should try to keep the UK “as close as possible” following Brexit, arguing that it would be a “mistake” to take steps that pushed the UK away. “We should do everything we can to demonstrate to the UK the attractiveness of the EU,” he said.
Warsaw has clashed with Brussels on numerous fronts in recent months, with fights over topics ranging from the Polish government’s controversial attempt to overhaul the country’s judicial system to how to accommodate the huge numbers of refugees that arrived on the continent’s shores in 2015 and 2016.
Asked whether the EU — which has threatened to use a never-previously used procedure to censure Poland if it pushes on with its judicial overhaul — was intervening too much in the affairs of member states, Mr Duda said that it was “normal” that EU institutions tried to increase their authority and that member states should push back.
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