What is differentiated integration and what is differentiation?

What is differentiation? Differentiated integration? What about disintegration? Here is an overview.

Differentiated integration 

Differentiated integration focuses on aspects of the EU integration process, such as multiple speeds, moves towards core Europe, and questions of variable geometry. Differentiated integration is discussed in relation to the EU as a political system (polity); in terms of the politics of EU integration (and disintegration); and in terms of EU policy-making and implementation. 

Here are some important terms that are used to describe differentiated integration: 

  • Core Europe and variable geometry: permanent differences in member states’ statuses.  
  • Multiple speeds: all eventually reach the same destination, or some end up in a different place or with a different status. 
  • States can gain opt-outs and exemptions or exceptions from EU legal provisions: primary or secondary laws, permanent or temporary provisions. 

Differentiated disintegration

Differentiated disintegration refers to a process whereby the EU becomes less integrated, albeit in an uneven and differentiated manner. 

Such centrifugal dynamics could involve structural fragmentation; pressures and actions of rolling back integration in a differentiated fashion; states seeking to alter their status as members through seeking looser permanent affiliations; spill-back; and permanent opt-outs or derogations with binding effects on other members.  


Differentiation is more encompassing than differentiated integration. It refers to how modern societies have become increasingly differentiated along territorial, functional, social, economic, cultural and political lines. All modern political systems – the EU included – are structurally differentiated, although the EU is a distinctly differentiated system. 

Differentiation helps to capture the distinctive features of the EU as a multilevel political system; how it functions; how relations between levels of governing are structured and operate; how the EU’s structural make-up shapes demand and supply of differentiated integration; and how the EU interacts with its surroundings, and structures its relations with non-members. 

Four categories

In order to provide an understanding of the various facets of differentiation, DifferentiGate classifies the research in four broad categories.  

Every publication is labeled with only one category. In cases where more than one category is relevant for a publication, we have labeled the publication with the category that fits it best.

Demand and supply of differentiated (dis)integration

What causes differentiated integration, who demands it and what do these actors demand? What causes supply, and what are the types of supply? In this category, you will find research on the key drivers of differentiated (dis)integration. 

The EU as a distinctly differentiated system

All political systems are differentiated, but what makes the EU special as a differentiated system of governance? In this category, you will find research describing the EU system and how it is differentiated. 

Challenges and opportunities 

What are the consequences of differentiation and differentiated integration in terms of governability and resilience; democracy and legitimacy; solidarity and fairness; and issues of dominance? In this category, you will find research on both the positive and negative aspects of differentiation and differentiated (dis)integration. 

Future of Europe: different scenarios

The EU’s development may take many different trajectories. In this category, you will find research exploring scenarios for Europe’s future, and how they will be shaped by differentiation and differentiated (dis)integration.

Published June 1, 2021 4:57 PM - Last modified June 1, 2021 4:57 PM