The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade organised a roundtable discussion on Europe from a regional perspective and on the possible added value of flexible cooperation on the 24th of May in the framework of the so-called „Stronger Together” series of events. The invited guests were Dr. Valentin Katrangijev (Expert Advisor to the Director of the Diplomatic Institute to the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs), Lucie Orgonikova (Deputy of Vice Prime Minister for Research, Science and Innovation Office of the Government of the Czech Republic), and Niels von Redecker (Deputy Head of Department Central Europe, Adviser to the Coordinator for German-Polish Cooperation, Federal Foreign Office of Germany). The discussion was moderated by Dr. Gergely Romsics (external fellow, IFAT).
The experts covered a broad agenda, however, the phenomena of regional and flexible cooperation firmly served as a nexus of the set of questions such as the discussion of the White Paper on the Future of Europe, and its influence on the forthcoming Multi-Annual Financial Framework, and the heterogeneous approach to the Russian incursion into Crimea.
Dr. Valentin Katrangijev reminded that – regardless of the mentioned White Paper – the proposition of a multi-speed Europe can not be perceived as a novel issue, at all, although a strategic foresight – the preservation of unity on solidarity – has always been indispensable to engaging in a regional cooperation. As a consequence, the EU ought to balance between integral cohesion and flexible cooperation in order to tackle heterogeneity. With regard to the crises affecting the current state of the Union, he elaborated that unless Brexit is contained appropriately, departure could be followed by other members, too, and a common understanding of the implication on European identity can not be found in the Union, as witnessed during the migration crisis. He set forth, as well, that the Eurozone is not enticing enough to warn the non-Eurozone countries to hasten their accession, as without certain elements of fiscal federalism (even a European finance minister) this circle of integration would fail to consolidate its system by surmounting the titanic amount of public debt in the Southern countries. Concerning the economic sanctions against Russia, he firmly pinned down that the further we move eastward in Europe the more palpable the energy dependence on Russia, hence, unless the repercussions cover energy policy restraint, the Russian economy would steadily adapt to them.
Niels von Redecker elaborated that regional cooperation should not be deemed a threat or a trigger for an emotional debate, but an instrument for common development, although it should not encompass the enhancing mechanisms of only low-profile policies. It is in the finest interests of the European Union to channel the various opinions and claims of the member states (as a matter of fact, he sees no instance for such institution of interest articulation in South Europe), even if these circumstances defy the European mainstream politics. Conducting different forms of flexible cooperation should sooner or later be integrated into the Treaties, otherwise, the multiple diverging networks of cooperation entail the risk of falling apart. He continued that in the case of flexible cooperation there is a suggestion of separate budget and institutionalisation that usually exacerbates the debate, having said that, he noted that Germany had never insisted on cutting the EU budget, since the country is profiting from providing so much contribution. He concluded that one who tends to look at Russia as an economic titan should be aware the fact that the German – Czech trade balance is higher than the German – Russian balance, surprisingly. As for military terms, relations toward Russia should be used on the basis of deterrence (protecting Poland and Estonia) and dialogue (via the NATO- Russian Council).
According to Lucile Orgonikova the European Union is unquestionably the best instrument to face challenges. She mentioned that the prime minister of the Czech Republic opened a debate about the accession into the Eurozone, as the Czech government would like to sit in the fast moving train, as well, instead of just lagging behind and watching the backside of the vehicle moving further and further away. Regarding the current Multi-Annual Financial Framework she noted that the funds on research and development has been increased, nevertheless, she would cordially welcome and appreciate this tendency to be carried on in the forthcoming frameworks, too.
The fruitful discussion was followed by a lively Q+A session with audience members, covering a diverse array of issues such as European identity, the migration crisis, as well as contemporary political discourse.