Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

What Does It Mean To Be Pro-European?

Adelina Marini, November 9, 2017

Andrej Babis's election victory in the Czech Republic shows that it is high time that we define clearly what does pro-Europeanism really mean, because under this umbrella so many mutually exclusive perceptions and ideologies are put. Good diagnostics of attitudes in the member states will be especially necessary in 2018 when the European Union will make several integration leaps in a number of directions - defence, the euro area, external policy, tax policy. An accurate analysis of pro-Europeanism would help us understand better the multispeed Europe whose outlines will become clearer from next year onward. A more precise sorting could help the European political families as well to clean themselves of the hidden and not so hidden eurosceptics.

In the past years, two types of pro-Europeanism have emerged. The first covers those who work for deeper European integration (in some cases this means completing it by joining Schengen and the euro area), and the second type covers those who claim they are pro-Europeans but in their essence they are eurosceptics. The eurosceptic crisis was too early pronounced over because euroscepticism is viewed only as one-sided but it is multifaceted. After Emmanuel Macron's appearance on European stage, the determination of the pole - pro-European or a eurosceptic - is now a much easier exercise. If you are a pro-European, it means you vouch for more Europe, whereas the eurosceptics want less Europe or no Europe at all.

Several shades of pro-Europeanism

In the prime league of pro-Europeanism are those countries that work for deepening of the European integration. Throughout the decades since the establishment of the Community, pro-Europeanism has developed mainly driven by crises. Each integration step was a response to the challenges of the present time. In the beginning, it was easy because the Union was smaller, more compact and homogeneous in economic, political and values way. It was developing in a simple bipolar world, divided into a developed West and an occupied East. Now, the Community is too big, too diverse, it is developing in a deeply globalised and digitalised world offering alternative value systems which has turned pro-Europeanism from a constant into a variable, the behaviour of which has to be constantly monitored. This explains why national elections in systemically important member states are under the spotlight even in the tiniest corners of the EU.

The ideological variability is expected to be the constant of the 21st century which means that the Union itself will become variable both in terms of form and substance. In the beginning, the Union was planned to move as a whole in a one-way direction toward an "ever closer union". When integration started deepening too much, however, the first cracks emerged. With each new treaty new exceptions emerged from this or that area of deepening of integration. And today, it is clear that the direction is not just one and there is a danger the exceptions to destroy the Community. That is why, with the last treaty - the treaty of Lisbon - an opportunity was given for various speeds through the enhanced cooperation procedure which, from now on, will be the main integration model because it allows inclusion at a later stage without much difficulty.

It is a convenient model in cases when pro-European governments take turns with eurosceptics in the member states and especially for countries which do not have deeply rooted pro-Europeanism. Although it will be applied more and more often, the enhanced cooperation procedure is still not a sufficiently strong gauge of pro-Europeanism. Currently, the levels of pro-Europeanism are as follows (from strongest to weakest and depending on where a country is on the path): the euro area, enhanced cooperation procedures, remain/join the EU.

The eurozone

This is the place of deepest integration. Whatever is to happen at European level it will happen there. Emmanuel Macron's victory at the presidential election in France has opened a rare opportunity for deepening the integration in the currency club in a no-crisis period, which means without being driven by a crisis. Currently, active preparation is ongoing for the next big step toward deepening of relations in the eurozone, but the coalition talks in Germany are slowing the process down. At this stage, there is no danger for the integration step itself. It will certainly happen. The question is how big will it be.

In the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), as is the official name of the eurozone, there are 19 EU member states. The common European currency was launched in 1999 with 11 of the then EU member: Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Austria, Luxembourg. Greece joined in 2001. Sweden, Denmark and the UK reserved the right to stay outside until they decide differently. All the new member states that joined in 2004, 2007 and 2013 committed in their accession treaties that they will become part of the currency club but no specific date was set.

In the beginning, enlargement was going relatively fast. Slovenia was the first of the new member states to join in 2007. In 2008, Cyprus and Malta joined and right at the beginning of the euro area crisis Slovakia joined. The crisis pushed the pause-button, but the Baltic states demonstrated a strong dose of pro-Europeanism by deciding to join with the argument that thus they will complete the process of European integration. This happened as a result of the growth of Russian aggression and authoritarianism. Estonia became a member in 2011, Latvia in 2014, and Lithuania in 2015. The euro area crisis, however, was not the only reason for the slowing down of the process. Among the new member states the virus of illiberalism had started spreading which forced them to pull the handbrake of their integration.

The only non-euro country which made a serious statement for accession is Croatia. It did it also with the argument that this is an expression of deep pro-Europeanism. When the European Commission unveiled this spring its plans for deepening of the integration in the euro area, it recalled that the euro is the common currency of the entire European Union and invited all member states, who have not yet met their treaty obligation to join, to do so. At this month's Eurogroup, the format opened for the first time for the non-euro countries to prepare the summit on the future of the euro area on 15 December. All countries who wish to join are invited to attend. This is also a reminder to the non-euro countries to make their choice which in its essence is about pro-Europeanism or euroscepticism.

So far, reservations to join stated Poland and Hungary, and in the Czech Republic, the election winner Andrej Babis said he was a firm opponent of the common currency. Whether he will change his position after a government is formed in Prague we will see. Bulgaria, which takes over the rotating presidency of the EU Council in January, has changed its position several times and generally states a desire to adopt the euro but has not yet undertaken serious steps in this direction. So, every country which is part of the euro area is a pro-European one by default.

Once in the eurozone, however, pro-Europeanism gets new shades. There is a difference between those who want faster integration and the others who believe that this path should be threaded slowly and cautiously. This could deceive observers that this is a manifestation of euroscepticism but the reasons behind reservations is not a reluctance to go deeper but distrust in some economically weaker members (especially after the euro area crisis). The "eurosceptic" members of the eurozone want guarantees that they will not have to carry on their backs (including financially) those who lack audacity to do what is necessary. A compromise will be sought precisely along this line for the next integration step.


The migration crisis did to Schengen what the debt crisis did for to euro area - it broke trust and led to tensions in this integration space. Sometimes, the euro area and Schengen are wrongly interpreted as equal integration cores. However, the free movement zone has much weaker intensity of integration because it includes countries which are not part of the EU - Lichtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. In addition, Schengen covers a very thin area of legislation, whereas the eurozone is much more broader in scale. Nevertheless, Schengen is the space where the outlines of the conflict between pro-European countries and eurosceptics is most vivid. For the new EU member states participation in the Schengen agreement was a manifestation of pro-Europeanism. Outside of it are several member states - the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania.

Britain and Ireland do not participate because they don't want to. Croatia is the youngest EU member state and has not yet completed the preparations for membership in Schengen. The government in Zagreb hopes this to happen by the end of 2018 so that a political decision is taken in 2019. Bulgaria and Romania are blocked because they have not yet fulfilled their commitments under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism which the two countries joined the EU with on 1 January 2007. Both want to join Schengen but they are not willing to do what it takes which should qualify them as semi-pro-European. No matter how things will unravel from now on Schengen is not a serious gauge of pro-Europeanism.

Enhanced cooperation procedures

This integration form has so far been applied four times. In 2010, the procedure was applied for the first time when the regulation on divorces was adopted. In it take part Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia. With an enhanced cooperation procedure was introduced the unitary patent as well, supported by 26 member states (without Spain and Croatia). The third time the instrument was used was for the legislation that settles property relations between international couples. It was signed by 18 member states - Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden.

Pro-Europeanism is hard to measure with these procedures because it depends a lot on the scale of the proposed legislation. Marriage regulations are with a very small scale and bear weak integration charge. The unitary patent is a much more significant integration dossier which has the power to change relations among the participating countries in the long-term but not fundamentally. So far, the most significant legislation, agreed under an enhanced cooperation procedure, is the establishment of a new mega body - the office of the European prosecutor. Twenty member states will take part in it. Those who will not participate are the UK (Brexit), Ireland (opt-out), Denmark (opt-in), Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and Malta.

The procedure was applied also for the introduction of a financial transaction tax but work on this dossier has never been brought to an end. Currently, no work is being done on it. Ten member states committed to it which is the smallest number so far (the minimum is 9). With the Rome declaration from March this year, the member states agreed this procedure to be applied more frequently. The current atmosphere in the Union will make it a much better gauge of pro-Europeanism, but it still depends on the type of legislation it is applied for and what its scale is.

Hidden euroscepticism

Euroscepticism in EU has not gone away as a risk for the Union and will hardly disappear completely. As a matter of fact, I keep asking myself whether it should because it could serve as a healthy opposition which every democratic process needs if it does not lead to manipulations and distortions as was the case with Brexit. The growingly complex global and internal European situation distinguishes several types of euroscepticism - open, hidden and changeable. The open form is the most honest one because it clearly states opposition to European integration - its deepening or the existence of the EU at large as the former is more frequent than the latter. The most popular representatives of this group are the British politician Nigel Farage and the National Front leader Marine le Pen in France.

The hidden euroscepticism is hard to detect. It manifests itself most often in the form of nationalism and illiberalism. The most popular representatives of this group are Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the ruling party in Poland, Law ans Justice. Actually, Viktor Orban should be rather defined as an open eurosceptic because he, just like Marine le Pen, vouches for a Europe of nations and not only is he against more Europe but he preaches less Europe. In this regard, will Hungary remain outside the euro area will be the clearest evidence of its level of pro-Europeanism.

Hidden eurosceptics are also most of the rulers in candidate countries, especially Serbia and Turkey. Turkey, under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still claims it wants to be part of the EU but is doing exactly the opposite to what it should. Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic and the ruling elite in Serbia are also hidden eurosceptics. They incessantly claim that EU membership is a strategic choice for Serbia but are tirelessly working against it.

Bulgaria, too, suffers of hidden euroscepticism as the situation worsened significantly in the past years when the public domain has been dominated by illiberal, xenophobic and nationalist opinions which often bode the EU's demise. In addition, Bulgaria is now much more far off from the rule of law than it was before its EU accession 10 years ago. Bulgaria participates  in most of the enhanced cooperation procedures but it is far from the euro area and the obstacle in front of Schengen shows that its EU membership, generally, is purely for the sake of appearances.

The changeable euroscepticism manifests itself most often in the anti-establishment parties like, for instance, Beppe Grillo's Five Stars Movement in Italy, SYRIZA in Greece, Podemos in Spain. They are variable eurosceptics because they change their positions depending on the current state of affairs. Their modus operandi is to be opportunists while in opposition. Once they get their hands on governance they quickly realise that breaking off with EU and the euro area will be disastrous for their countries and themselves personally. The Greek SYRIZA is a very telling example in this regard.

It's the values, stupid!

The most accurate measurement of pro-Europeanism are the original values the EU was founded upon as enshrined in Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty - respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. EU is meant to be a community of countries where societies are pluralistic, there is no discrimination, there is tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women. Those who share these values see no other alternative but deeper EU integration, which is why this criterion remains the most important one when measuring who is pro-European and who is not. And this should be the starting point. You will recognise them by their laws.