It is the challenge of a double impossibility that Ukraine is presenting to the European Union. The first problem is that the Union cannot refuse to open its doors to this martyred country, because this would be to deny it solidarity and protection, when it will probably not be able to join the Atlantic Alliance and creating its own prosperity will be its best shield in the long term.
This is hardly debatable. It is even obvious. Unless we renounce all our values, give up defending democracy and flee from the international responsibilities to which we aspire at the very moment when we are called upon to assume them, the Union cannot turn its back on the Ukrainians. But what would happen if we were to proceed, with them, to a new enlargement?
We could not continue to sit on the brakes in our negotiations with the Western Balkans and Serbia, nor could we not agree to expand to Moldova, Georgia, perhaps even Armenia, or even to a Turkey which may have broken with its current dictatorship.
By saying “yes” to the Ukrainians, it is not only that the Union would take the risk of accepting into its midst a ruined country whose borders will remain disputed and fragile for a long time. It is not only that the Union would do everything it should never do, but also that it would run the risk of paralysis since our institutions, already so constraining with 27 members, would certainly no longer be suitable for some forty member states with such profoundly different levels of economic and political development.
So let us open our eyes. The acceleration of history brought about by China’s politico-military assertiveness, the United States’ desire to refocus on Asia, the pandemic and, of course, the aggression against Ukraine, forces us to make two revolutions and not just one.
We had already convinced ourselves of the need to unify our approaches to the world, to equip ourselves with a common defence and pan-European industrial policies. We have already entered the third stage of European unity, which should lead us to a political union after the single market and the euro. We have already entered the stormy waters into which the completion of these historic tasks will inevitably throw us, and now in addition we are being asked to consider a new enlargement, which would be by far the most difficult we have ever experienced and will ever experience.
That is the way it is. We cannot and must not shy away from it as we could not have when the countries that left the Soviet bloc were knocking on our doors, but what can we do to meet so many challenges at the same time?
Multi-speed Europe is the answer.
We have to stop thinking that we could all of us move at the same pace all the time and in all areas. It is not possible. It will remain so for many decades, but we can build coalitions of countries willing to go further and faster towards common goals, and this could be done in two ways.
The first would be to act case by case, to see who wants to take two steps forward when others would only consider one or none. This is not unplayable, but the Union would find it difficult to constantly reconfigure itself to suit the events of the time, while at the same time it would have to act ever more quickly and with ever greater clarity.
This leaves another hypothesis, that of a three-stage rocket, with all the necessary linkages between the first and second and the second and third stages, so that one day, which is still far off and should not be rushed, there will be only one stage: a single rocket.
This would be the long-term objective, but in the immediate term, or at least in the short term, how can we define these three stages?
Well, the first stage could be that of the European Partnership, a stage to which we could integrate the Balkans, Ukraine, a solidly democratised Turkey and, when it wants to, a Great Britain turning its back on the vanity of its solitude.
It would be, one within the other, the stage of what had been the Common Market, a free trade area cemented by adherence to the principles of the rule of law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Then would come the stage of the economic union, common policies and the single currency, what the current state of the Union is but more advanced, unanimous in adopting the euro and banning social and fiscal dumping.
Finally, the third stage would be what should be called, in the full sense of the word, the European Community, where a handful of countries would pool foreign policy, the development of a common defence and the industrial investments in the industries of the future.
Let’s leave aside the words that make people angry and don’t have the same meaning in each of the member states. Let us instead use this word, “Community”, which no longer causes any fear since the Treaty of Rome, but whose simplicity expresses so forcefully the essential point, namely that, in this third tier, we are pooling everything that is most important, first and foremost: our security.
If we were to agree on this approach, everything would still have to be done to enter into the mass of details that matter so much, but we would have said from the outset that we are willing to take up the challenge of the double impossibility and to give ourselves the means to do so.
Where there is a will, there is a way.