Europe needs to begin a dialogue and make bold decisions in order to protect its cohesion and avoid degenerating into little more than a free-trade zone, Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday, in an article published by the Greek newspaper "Efimerida ton Syntakton" under the title "Europe of 'multiple speeds' or 'multiple options?"
"A policy of austerity and severe fiscal restriction increased distances and speeds between European economies and has further exacerbated the social cohesion problem. On the other hand, the refugee crisis came to strengthen xenophobic and eurosceptic trends in the conservative social strata, to strengthen far-right populism politically and, of course, tested the unity, cohesion and prestige of the Union in the implementation of common commitments and decisions," Tsipras said.
This economic and geopolitical uncertainty was then made further amplified by the repercussions of Brexit and the 'uncharted waters' entered on the other side of the Atlantic, he added. In light of these facts, Europe must begin a discussion and make decisions that were realistic and that could be implemented.
"It is clear that the member-states' declaration for 'ever closer Europe' has lost its momentum and its content. On the contrary, what appears to be dominating is a trend for more and more 'elective' Europe, or Europe 'a la carte'," the prime minister said, citing the closed borders in response to the refugee crisis as an example.
Tsipras likened the EU to a team of mountain climbers connected by a rope: "They move at a single speed. If they abolish this...each individual member must keep up with strongest group or walk alone, in any direction he or she thinks best. This is not freedom, it is a divestment of responsibility," he said.
On the other hand, "if we ensure that we are all on a ship going at the same speed, just because some people want to stay in their cabins, we cannot then lock the doors for those that wish to go out on deck."
In conclusion, Tsipras said, Europe needed to redefine the current situation and talk about not a Europe of "multiple speeds" but one of "multiple options". If Europe wants to allow those that want to do more to go ahead and strive for different degrees of integration, this must be made possible under specific conditions that ensure that the EU remains open, democratic and cohesive, he said.
In practical terms, Tsipras continued, this meant that any discussion must take place in the framework of existing treaties and that further integration should take the current level of enhanced cooperation as given, abandoning suggestions for the fragmentation of existing structures such as the Eurozone or Schengen zone. He also stressed the need to give up all ideas of a "closed club" including only the strong or core countries within the Eurozone.
"All levels of closer cooperation must be open and freely accessible to all member-states," Tsipras noted.
Lastly, he emphasised the need to prevent a weakening of European policies for cohesion and convergence.
Ending the article, written ahead of the March 25 Summit in Rome marking the 60th anniversary since the foundation of the EU, Tsipras urged "progressive Europe" and the forces of the Left to seek a new leadership role and work together to create a progressive alternative agenda for Europe.
"Such an agenda is the only effective answer to the forces of far-right populism, isolationism, and xenophobia and thus the only way to keep Europe united," he said.