Is Macron’s ‘European Political Community’ a realistic prospect?
The French presidency of the EU ends on June 30 with Emmanuel Macron’s new big idea, a “European Political Community”, at stake. This community would include candidates for EU membership such as Ukraine, and possibly ex-member Britain. For some observers, the idea of the French president offers an essential way to involve countries in the European project, while the long process of accession to the EU takes a long time. But others argue that Macron’s plan offers few clear objectives and is likely to wither, much like a similar French idea from three decades ago.
EU leaders discussed – but got no further – Macron’s vision for this new European structure at their summit in Brussels on Thursday, which concluded France’s six-month EU presidency.
This proposed Community would provide a framework for EU members and democratic European non-members to discuss shared interests. The main goal would be “to stabilize the European continent,” Macron said during a trip to Moldova earlier this month.
Macron put forward the idea in a speech to the EU Parliament in early May, arguing that it was necessary to come full circle and allow Ukraine, Moldova, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo. allow themselves to join the European crowd, even if 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 through a plethora of bilateral deals) and the UK ( famously an ex-member) could join. The group could also include the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“Ukraine, through its struggle and courage, is already today a member of the heart of our Europe, of our family, of our Union,” Macron said. said†
On the other hand, the French president continued, “even if tomorrow we grant them candidate status for membership of our European Union […] we are all well aware that the process of allowing them to join would take several years – in reality probably several decades. And it is the truth to say this unless we decide to lower the standards of this membership and therefore completely rethink the unity of our Europe.”
The European Political Community would provide a solution to this conundrum regarding Ukraine’s bid for the EU, Macron argued.
“An urgent need?”
The EU-27 on Thursday accelerated Ukraine to candidate membership status, suggesting Macron pulled a point by saying “decades”. Nevertheless, Ukraine will need a lot of hard work before it can join the bloc, especially in tackling endemic corruption and meeting EU rule of law standards.
Bringing Ukraine and other candidate countries like Moldova to the EU before they have successfully implemented reforms is not possible, as it would “drasically change how the bloc works,” noted Claude-France Arnould, formerly a senior French diplomat, now at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. But at the same time, she continued, “there is an urgent need to bring European countries that share the EU’s interests and democratic values into the fold”.
The EU must “adjust accordingly” if it is to avoid the “paralysis” that would result from too rapid enlargement, Arnould continued. Macron’s initiative is thus a “clear political necessity”.
Without such an initiative, there is currently no institutional framework that “can meet the geopolitical need” to immediately tie Ukraine to the EU, added Gesine Weber, a researcher at the German Marshall Fund office in Paris.
An ambiguous reception
But it seems that Kiev will take a lot of persuasion to accept anything that will not be admitted to the EU. “Nothing that does not conform to EU membership would be acceptable,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said days after Macron’s announcement in May. Kuleba expressed fears a European Political Community would give the EU an excuse to keep Ukraine out of the bloc and dismiss such a scenario as “discriminatory” – though French officials have since assured Kiev that Ukraine will not be kept out of the union indefinitely .
On Thursday, North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski in Brussels before an EU-Western Balkans summit said Macron’s proposal was a good idea but stressed that it “must not and should not be a substitute for full membership of 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 “great enthusiasm” for Macron’s idea during talks with the French president on the sidelines of Sunday’s G7 summit in Bavaria, the Élysée Palace told Agence France Presse.
Last month, however, Foreign Minister Liz Truss (a frontrunner to succeed the politically damaged Johnson) rejected Macron’s idea, telling the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “My preference is to build on structures we already have. have that work successfully, be it the G7 or NATO.”
Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of EU hegemony Germany, is the person Macron most needs to convince. And Scholz took a similar note to Kovacevski, praising the French president’s idea and warning that it should not get in the way of the long-running EU accession process for North Macedonia, Albania and Serbia.
‘A forum for grandstanding’?
Berlin has long been skeptical of Macron’s grand ideas for Europe. In his 2017 Sorbonne speech, the French president outlined a new vision for the EU centered around the concept of “strategic autonomy” – meaning the EU is completely militarily, economically and technologically independent from other major powers, not least a mercurial US. Scholz’s predecessor Angela Merkel said nothing against “strategic autonomy”. But she did nothing to make it happen.
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 the entire European continent together, without replacing the then European Community. Despite the support of Jacques Delors, then President of the European Commission and Mitterrand’s closest ally, Mitterrand’s proposal fell through because there was little real enthusiasm outside France.
Macron’s idea will likely suffer the same fate as Mitterrand’s, for much the same reason, argued Richard Whitman, a professor of European politics and international relations at the University of Kent: “If you read the comprehensive European Council conclusions on it, what they say” again basically destroys 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 join the EU, it sends a nice message, but its purpose is not clear.”
In light of that, other leaders’ warm words could be seen as “an exercise where everyone listens and nods and feels they have to give Macron something,” Whitman continued. “There are all kinds of other ways to involve the countries Macron has in mind.”
“I especially liked what Macron said at the end of his speech where he laid out last month’s idea – ‘act reasonably, act quickly, dream big,'” added Andrew Smith, a professor of French politics at the University of Chichester. “I think there is a commendable idea of an active EU that really wants to connect with the world, rather than watching things go by or isolating its citizens from phenomena that come from elsewhere. And it is certainly a good thing to deal with the UK in a way that avoids the diplomatic squabbles of recent years.”
But beneath the surface, Smith concluded, it seems that Macron’s idea outside France is less appealing in practice than in theory: lacking concrete, specific goals, “the concern is that this would create a forum for political greatness, especially for disaffected candidate countries who are frustrated by the long time it takes to join the EU”.
French governments have a habit of proposing grandiose, abstract-sounding notions, to which the rest of Europe responds with nods and silence. But that said, the war in Ukraine poses a conundrum: how to meet Kiev’s desire to join the EU without rushing a long and complex process?