Macron says ‘European political community’ no substitute to enlargement

Emmanuel Macron will be in Romania and Moldova next week. [EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN HARTMANN]

The “European political community” complements the EU accession process and is not an “alternative”, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, following concerns by those in the EU waiting room that the idea could serve as a way to shut out countries from the bloc.

Speaking in front of the EU Parliament on Europe Day (9 May), French President Emmanuel Macron pitched a new “political European community” that would allow Ukraine and others currently on the EUs waiting list, such as those in the Western Balkans, to be more closely involved with the EU.

The idea, interpreted by commentators as an alternative to the EU’s moribund enlargement process, was received with scepticism by those aspiring to join the bloc.

“No alternative to EU membership for Ukraine would be acceptable”, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted to the proposal last week.

On Thursday (20 May), speaking in Paris at a press conference with his Moldovan counterpart Maia Sandu, whose country also recently submitted its EU accession request, the French president attempted to clarify his proposal.

He said it represented “a new framework for structuring cooperation, bringing together democratic European nations that adhere to our set of values and that may or may not aspire to join the European Union.”

Although it could be seen as a way of avoiding the integration of certain countries into the EU, the community would be a “compliment” and not an “alternative to the accession process”.

The EU’s drive to incorporate the six Western Balkans states has been pursued at a glacial pace.

Montenegro is the only country that has opened all chapters of negotiation, while Serbia has only opened 22 of the 35 policy areas, but actual progress remains negligible.

Kosovo is yet to be granted candidate status, and hopes of an EU future continue to dwindle as visa-liberalisation remains out of reach. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, also not an official candidate, tensions between local politicians continue to threaten stability and impede progress.

Meanwhile, Brussels has failed to start negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as the latter’s bid is being held up by neighbouring Bulgaria over disagreements about shared history and language.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned earlier this week that a Bulgaria’s veto is “a present to Russia”.

Concerns also remain about the rule of law, asylum seekers, and organised crime, particularly coming out of  Tirana.

According to Macron, his idea would allow “a stronger structuring of the political, energy and investment relationship with several countries that so desire.”

Sandu welcomed Macron’s proposal because the new European political community would “support and accelerate” the process of Moldova’s accession to the EU, which began when the application was submitted on 3 March.

While Macron warned on 9 May that the accession of Ukraine and other candidate countries could take “several years,” Sandu assured him that Moldova is ready “to make efforts, to work” and that it was not looking for “a shortcut” on the road to membership. Moldova has “a European future,” she said.

Alongside Sandu, Macron also expressed the hope that “the next few weeks will enable us to give a clear response to Moldova, which deserves it, given its geopolitical, security and humanitarian situation.”

“The recent incidents [in Transnistria] show that a spread of the conflict cannot be excluded,” Macron added.

Transnistria, an unrecognised Moscow-backed sliver of land bordering southwestern Ukraine, has seen several explosions in recent weeks, raising concerns Russia may be behind the events.

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