«For many supporters of the European project, the EU has entered “uncharted territory,” and for the first time in its 60-year history, they worry that at least some aspects of EU integration may be stopped or reversed. Others contend that there is a chance that the multiple crises currently facing the EU could produce some beneficial EU reforms and ultimately transform the bloc into a more effective and cohesive entity. Possible future scenarios for the EU include the following:
Muddling Through. The EU would largely continue to function as it currently does, without any significant treaty changes or decisionmaking reforms, and find some degree of common solutions to crises such as those posed by Greece’s economic situation and increasing migratory pressures. The EU would continue to pursue integration and common policies where possible, with or without the UK as a member.
Establishing Two Speeds. The EU would become a two-speed entity, consisting of a strongly integrated group of “core” countries and a group of “periphery” countries more free to pick and choose those EU policies in which they wish to participate. Some analysts suggest that a two-speed EU already exists in practice, with varying membership on a range of EU initiatives, such as the Eurozone, Schengen, justice and home affairs issues, and defense policy. Others suggest that a formal two-tier structure could undermine solidarity and create frictions between “core” and “periphery” member states.
A Looser, More Intergovernmental Configuration. Further EU integration would essentially be put on hold, and possibly reversed in some areas, with sovereignty on certain issues reclaimed by national capitals. This may be most likely should reform-minded euroskeptic parties come into power in more EU countries and if the UK is successful in its bid to carve out additional EU policy exemptions. A looser structure may make it easier for the EU to expand ultimately to include Turkey, the remaining aspirants in the Western Balkans, and other countries such as Georgia and Ukraine.
A Tighter, More Integrated Configuration. The EU would emerge from its current challenges more united and integrated. Some suggest such an outcome could actually be more likely in the event of “Grexit” and/or “Brexit,” leaving a somewhat smaller EU of member states more aligned on the need for further political and economic integration. This configuration would likely not encourage further EU enlargement.»
Kristin Archick (Specialist in European Affairs), TheEuropean Union: Current Challenges and Future Prospects, Congressional Research Service, June 21, 2016