We are divergent…
A new opening in the debate on the EU’s future initiated by Emmanuel Macron’s proposals for greater integration has brought into sharp relief rifts within the community along traditional fault lines. These conflicting visions reflect the structural and developmental imbalances that divide the Member States.
Hardly any pan-EU systemic reforms can be carried out, for instance, without France, Germany and Poland, which are three very different countries. France, which traditionally represents “the South” of the Eurozone, stands in contrast to the North, dominated by Germany. Poland is a “young” Central and Eastern European member state, whose region is still catching up with the “old” EU. Meanwhile, Germany, defender of EU unity as a whole, is contradicted by France with its plans to speed ahead in integrating the core of Europe and no longer wait for the more reluctant states to come on board.
While the EU was conceived to ensure that all Member States would prosper by pursuing a balanced social development, unequal social development is a key factor differentiating these three key countries and lies behind their disagreements. What’s more, key economic indicators show that discrepancies in living standards between EU countries remain as pronounced as ever. As shown in the figure below, monthly minimum wages – always an excellent measure of the standard of living – in the CEE Member States are significantly lower when compared to Western EU countries. This has recently sparked arguments across the Union over social standards.
…but not so different after all
The divisions of Europe regarding the pace of economic development run along similar lines as those pertaining to social standards, although here the roles are reversed. It is in fact the newer member states that are growing faster than the older ones (see figure below). What this shows is that the promised catch-up, evening out of economic capabilities and convergence are indeed under way.