Is differentiated integration an unintended consequence of the European Union integration process or is it a conscious policy choice of national decision-makers? By investigating national political preferences on EU integration based on a new interview data set collected in nine EU and non-EU countries, the policy paper outlines three main results. First, differentiated integration is at present widely considered as a desirable and effective alternative to foster integration in the EU as long as it upholds an inclusive character. Second, only in specific policy areas do political actors perceive differentiated integration as effective in terms of both output and outcome in the long term. Third, tailored forms of external differentiation will represent a viable solution for the EU’s relations with third countries in the near future. The paper also outlines specific recommendations on how differentiated integration might be used as a more strategic and conscious policy choice in the future.
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