France’s EU presidency ends on June 30 with Emmanuel Macron’s big new idea, a “European Political Community”, on hold. This community would include candidates for EU membership such as Ukraine, and possibly ex-member Britain. For some observers, the French president’s idea offers a key way to bring countries into the European project as the long process of EU membership unfolds. But others argue that Macron’s plan offers few clear goals and is likely to wither away, much like a similar French idea from three decades ago.
EU leaders discussed – but did not advance – Macron’s vision for this new European structure at their summit in Brussels on Thursday, which crowned France’s six-month EU presidency.
This proposed community would be a framework for EU members and democratic European non-members to discuss common interests. Its overarching goal would be to “stabilize the European continent”, Macron said during a trip to Moldova earlier this month.
Macron floated the idea in an address to the European Parliament in early May, arguing that it was necessary to square the circle and allow Ukraine, Moldova, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo to join the European fold even though they are not yet ready for EU membership. But the organization would be open to all democratic European countries, so Norway (a member of the single market), Iceland (also in the single market), Switzerland (linked to the EU by a plethora of bilateral agreements ) and the UK (famous a former -member) could join. The group could also encompass the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“Ukraine, through its fight and its courage, is already today a member of the heart of our Europe, of our family, of our Union,” Macron said.
On the other hand, continues the French president, “even if tomorrow we grant them the status of candidate for membership of our European Union […] we all know perfectly well that the process of getting them to join would take several years – in fact, probably several decades. And it is true to say so, unless we decide to lower the standards of this membership and therefore completely rethink the unity of our Europe.
The European Political Community would offer a solution to this conundrum regarding Ukraine’s EU candidacy, Macron argued.
“An urgent need? »
The EU27 accelerated Ukraine’s accession to candidate status on Thursday, suggesting Macron was stretching a point by saying “decades”. Nevertheless, Ukraine needs a lot of work before it can join the bloc, especially in terms of tackling endemic corruption and bringing it into line with EU rule of law standards.
Bringing Ukraine and other candidate states like Moldova into the EU before they have successfully implemented the reforms is not possible, as it would “radically change the way the bloc works”, Claude noted. -France Arnould, former senior French diplomat, now at the French Institute. international relations in Paris. But at the same time, she continued, “there is an urgent need to bring into the fold those European countries that share the interests and democratic values of the EU”.
The EU must “adapt accordingly” if it wants to avoid the “paralysis” that would result from expanding too quickly, Arnould continued. Thus, Macron’s initiative is an “obvious political necessity”.
Without such an initiative in place, there is currently no institutional framework that “can meet the geopolitical need” to immediately link Ukraine to the EU, added Gesine Weber, researcher at the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund.
An ambiguous welcome
But it seems that Kyiv will need a lot of convictions to accept everything that is not allowed in the EU. “Nothing less than EU membership would be acceptable,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said days after Macron’s announcement in May. Kuleba expressed concern that a European Political Community would give the EU an excuse to keep Ukraine out of the bloc, calling such a scenario “discriminatory” – although French officials have since assured Kyiv that Ukraine would not be excluded from the union indefinitely. .
In Brussels on Thursday for an EU-Western Balkans summit, North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said Macron’s proposal was a good idea but stressed that it “should not and must not replace membership fully to the European Union”.
The UK has the most ambiguous position of any potential member of a European Political Community. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed “a lot of enthusiasm” for Macron’s idea during talks with the French president on the sidelines of Sunday’s G7 summit in Bavaria, the Elysee Palace told Agence France Presse.
However, last month, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (a favorite to succeed the politically damaged Johnson) scorned Macron’s idea, telling Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “My preference is to build on structures that we already have that are working successfully, whether it’s the G7 or NATO.
Olaf Scholz, chancellor of EU hegemonic Germany, is the person Macron needs to convince the most. And Scholz adopted a tone similar to Kovacevski’s, praising the French president’s idea while warning that it should not hamper the long process of EU accession for North Macedonia, Albania and Turkey. Serbia.
“A forum for demagoguery”?
Berlin has long been skeptical of Macron’s big ideas for Europe. In his 2017 Sorbonne speech, the French president presented a new vision for the EU centered on the concept of “strategic autonomy” – that is, complete military, economic and technological independence from the EU. EU compared to other major powers, especially the mercurial United States. Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel, said nothing against “strategic autonomy.” But she did nothing to make it a reality.
A more disturbing historical precedent for Macron’s idea is his predecessor François Mitterrand’s idea for a European Confederation. Just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Mitterrand proposed such an organization to bring together the whole of the European continent, without replacing the European Community of that time. Despite the support of Jacques Delors, the President of the European Commission at the time and a close ally of Mitterrand, Mitterrand’s proposal came to nothing as there was little genuine enthusiasm outside of France.
Macron’s idea is likely to have the same fate as Mitterrand’s, for the same reason, argued Richard Whitman, professor of European politics and international relations at the University of Kent: “If you read the detailed conclusions of the Council European on this, what they re say basically negates the idea, because they say [Macron’s proposal] should do nothing to undermine the EU or the enlargement process – so for those who want to be EU members it sends a nice message, but its purpose is unclear.
In light of this, the warm words of other leaders can be seen as “an exercise in which everyone listens, nods and feels they have to give something to Macron,” Whitman continued. “There are all sorts of other ways to engage the countries that Macron has in mind.”
“I particularly liked what Macron said at the end of his speech laying out the idea last month – ‘act decisively, act fast, dream big,'” added Andrew Smith, professor of French politics at the ‘University of Chichester. “I think there is a laudable idea here of an active EU that seeks to really engage with the world, instead of watching things pass or isolating its citizens from phenomena from elsewhere. And engaging with the UK in a way that avoids the diplomatic wrangling of recent years is certainly a good thing.
Beneath the surface, however, Smith concluded, outside of France it seems that Macron’s idea is less attractive in practice than in theory: in the absence of concrete and specific objectives, “the problem is that it would create a forum for political grandstanding, especially for disgruntled candidate states who are frustrated with the length of their EU membership”.
French governments are used to proposing grandiose and abstract notions, to which the rest of Europe responds with nods and silence. But having said that, the war in Ukraine creates a conundrum: how to respond to Kyiv’s desire to join the EU without rushing a long and complex process?