Macron teases alternative to EU enlargement

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the closing event of the Conference on the Future of Europe at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 09 May 2022. [EPA-EFE/RONALD WITTEK]

French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday (9 May) pitched a proposal for a new “political European community” that would allow Ukraine and others currently outside of the EU framework to be more closely involved with the EU.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Macron said such a step would help structure Europe’s security architecture, which has been shattered since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Now, the war in Ukraine and the legitimate aspirations of [Ukrainians], like those of Georgia and Moldova, who want to also join the EU, mean that we have to rethink our geography and the organisation of our continent’’ Macron told citizens and politicians during the final event of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

“This new political organization would allow democratic European nations that adhere to our core values to find a new space of political cooperation, of security, of cooperation in terms of energy, of transport and to invest in infrastructure where people could circulate, particularly young people,” he said.

Macron, however, did not specify how the new framework would politically work in practice but instead cited a proposal for a “European Confederation” by one of his predecessors, François Mitterrand.

According to the French president, the new framework would allow Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Western Balkan countries and “those who have left the EU” to be part of a political Europe more quickly.

“The EU, given its level of integration and ambition, cannot in the short term be the only way to structure the European continent,” Macron stated.

“To join it would not necessarily prejudge of any future membership of the EU, just as it would not be closed to those which have left the latter,” he added.

“It’s a way of anchoring countries which are geographically in Europe and share our values”, Macron told reporters afterwards, in a reference to those countries.

Macron’s intervention comes as EU states clash on how quickly to move forward with Kyiv’s membership application, for which a positive European Commission opinion to move forward with the process is expected in June.

Ukraine 'highly prepared' for next steps in EU bid, deputy PM says

Ukraine will complete by the end of this week the second part of a questionnaire on the ability of Ukraine to assume the obligations of membership and expects a positive answer in June, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister for European integration, Olha Stefanishyna, told EURACTIV but added that Kyiv understands “there is no fast track” for EU membership.

Following the Commission’s opinion, EU leaders would then to decide whether to grant Ukraine EU candidate status, a procedural step that normally takes years to attain, but for there has been significant momentum to make a ‘political decision’ in light of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has advocated for quick processing of Ukraine’s membership application, backed by central and eastern European member states.

France, and de facto most Western European countries, however, are sceptical about allowing Ukraine to proceed quickly and not having time to complete vital political reforms.

Macron suggested he favoured a quick decision on Ukraine’s candidate status, while dampening Kyiv’s hopes of a fast entry into the bloc.

Even if Ukraine was given formal EU candidate status, it would take years or “several decades” before it could actually join the bloc, he emphasised.

“And that is the truth unless we decide to lower the standards for accession and rethink the unity of our Europe, and also partially the principles that we hold,” he said.

Moreover, the Western Balkan question, namely when Albania and North Macedonia will join the EU after having received candidate status, still remains open.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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