Regional Groups in the European Union: Mapping an Unexplored Form of Differentiation

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Table of Contents: I. Introduction. – II. Defining BURGs. – II.1. Institutionalized cooperation. – II.2. Currently active. – II.3. Only current EU member states. – II.4. Institutional separation from the EU. – II.5. Geographical proximity. – III. Comparing BURGs: Key variables. – III.1. Longevity, pre- or post-accession. – III.2. Institutional structure. – III.3. Policy scope. – III.4. Frequency of meetings. – IV. Explaining BURGs. – IV.1. Integration vanguard. – IV.2. Functional cooperation. – IV.3. Policy coordination. – IV.4. Resistance. – V. Conclusion: BURGs and differentiated integration.

Abstract: Within the EU there are several regional forums in which member states cooperate with one another outside the EU institutional framework. The purpose of this Article is to define, identify, compare and explain these intra-EU bottom-up regional groups (BURGs). A BURG may be defined as a group of geographically proximate current EU member states engaging in a form of institutionalized and active cooperation that is institutionally separate from the EU. By this definition this Article identifies at least thirteen BURGs. Comparing the BURGs, this Article observes that they vary according to their longevity (including whether they were established pre- or post-accession), institutional complexity, policy scope, and frequency of meeting. Explaining BURGs, this Articles argues that they may serve one or more of four purposes – integration vanguard, functional cooperation, policy coordination, or resistance. These BURGs represent an unexplored form of differentiated governance within the EU. They do not conform to the classic definition of differentiated integration, which is measured according to whether member states opt-out of common EU policies. Rather, they are a bottom-up form of differentiation, that sits at an intermediate level between the member states and the EU.

Keywords: bottom-up – cooperation – differentiation – European Union – integration – regional groups.

European Papers, Vol. 7, 2022, No 2, pp. 949-968
2499-8249 - doi: 10.15166/2499-8249/588

* Research Fellow, Dublin City University,
** Full Professor of EU Law, Dublin City University,


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