European Political Community
Emmanuel Macron’s idea for a two-tier Europe
French President Emmanuel Macron used his speech on Europe Day – May 09 – to put forward a sweeping, avant-garde but detail-light proposal to redraw the political map of Europe with a new organization that would give Ukraine a closer relationship with the EU, short of membership — and could even include the United Kingdom that left the Union as a result of Brexit. Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Macron proposed a new “European Political Community,” that would include both members and non-members of the EU. “This new European organization would allow democratic European nations … to find a new space for political cooperation, security, cooperation in energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, the movement of people,” Macron said, adding that the “legitimate aspiration” of the people of Ukraine, “like those of Moldova and Georgia, to join the European Union, invites us to rethink our geography and the organization of our continent.”
Noting the urgency of giving Ukraine and other EU hopefuls like Moldova and Georgia a place in the heart of Europe, Macron called for the creation of this community. “Even if tomorrow we granted them the status of candidate for membership of our European Union … we all know perfectly well that the process allowing them to join would take several years — in truth, probably several decades. And it is the truth to say this, unless we decide to lower the standards of this membership and therefore to completely rethink the unity of our Europe,” he said.
Giving details about the proposal, Macron said, I explained why I think such a proposal is important at this moment our Europe is going through, because we can clearly see that there’s a desire to combine Europe and bring it together, to organize it in several areas, and, at the same time, we ourselves can also clearly see that such is the European Union’s ambitious level of integration that it’s very difficult for it not to take several years, sometimes several decades, to integrate it. So, actually for Ukraine, for several other countries – such as, for example, the Western Balkans, which haven’t initiated procedures to join the European Union; for the UK, that was its choice since it decided to leave the European Union, but who knows? – I gave two criteria: they need to be part of the European geographical space and share the core values which make our Europe; [then] this European political community will have meaning. I don’t want to set out exclusively here the geographical shape and who is set to be part of it, any more than I do the powers. I’ve given a few, for example: its very name indicates political coordination; elements of collective security, and that’s also a way of building this security architecture the European continent needs; elements of energy cooperation, because as Europeans we can clearly see our interdependence and the geopolitical consequences of the energy issue; issues of infrastructure, of the integration of these regions, integration with the rest of Europe within the European Union, and the movement of people. And ultimately I’m struck by the fact that with a lot of countries, because we tackled things only through membership of the European Union, we gave prospects that were too long and hopeless. But if we look at the problems that have to be resolved, they’re often those problems: energy, economic investments, young people’s future, transport infrastructure. And so I think it’s a way of answering this, of anchoring these countries in Europe, of increasing coordination with the European Union, without confusing all the agendas. That’s the heart of this proposal. It’s now got to be worked on, and I’m now going to set out on a mission, a layman’s mission – even though I’m here on territory governed by the Concordat – to continue making progress and trying to persuade interested governments. There you are.”
What will it look like?
The European political community will be a sort of confederation designed to bring together countries aspiring to join the European Union, so as not to oppose enlargement and reform. The idea would be to associate Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the countries of the Western Balkans with the European family, without rushing their accession, which could take “several decades,” according to Mr Macron. The prospect will no doubt disappoint them, but it is realistic.
By floating this idea, Macron has actually revived a project presented in vain just after the fall of the Berlin Wall by François Mitterrand, in 1989, while distancing itself from that project on a fundamental point, since Russia would not be invited to join this group of democratic countries. Welcoming the president to Berlin recently, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz cautiously described the idea as “very interesting”.
Symbolically, Macron spoke on Europe Day, an occasion that honours the starting point of the continent’s political and economic integration. His words also come amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has sparked Kyiv and two former Soviet countries to submit hasty EU membership applications: Moldova and Georgia. In addition, there are rumblings from the Western Balkans where countries such as North Macedonia and Albania have long been waiting for membership talks to start.
It may also be linked to frustrations at the speed of EU decision making. Several countries, including Hungary, are holding up a Brussels bid to ban imports of Russian oil.
How would the idea work?
Details are still very sketchy.
Macron, speaking later alongside German chancellor Olaf Scholz, said: “We must find a political form that enables to ‘dock’ to Europe some states that share the same values and geography and to build together a political coordination, probably some forms of solidarity in terms of security — and which are not the same as Nato, but some elements of cooperation, solidarity to be defined — cooperation in terms of energy because we see the integration and solidarity within Europe about these energy issues which are so structuring.
“We must now start the political consultation to see the interest and, as you noticed, maybe it’s also a way to regain stability and another form of cooperation with some countries such as the United Kingdom which has decided to leave our European Union but which can have its rightful place in this political community,” he added.
Nevertheless, the idea marks a major shift in the direction of European policy, particularly for France, which has shown a degree of intransigence towards further integration of new EU member states for years now.
Macron’s plans would see a two-tier Europe, which, in many ways, runs contrary to the idea of the EU, that is, complete allegiance to the bloc’s laws and regulations, and in the case of this new proposal, loosely attached European governments which would only cooperate more deeply on issues, such as defence and taxation.
One can say the Schengen Area and the eurozone are examples of a two-speed Europe, which is not the same as the other idea [of Macron], which is this outer circle of non-members of the EU, which would cooperate with the European Union on specific areas without being part of the bloc as members of the institutions. And that’s what Macron mentioned or was referring to, this idea of the European political community. And that’s what applies to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and perhaps to the UK, as well as other countries.
What are the future prospects?
Macron’s idea would likely require changes to the EU treaties and there appears to be little appetite for this. Up to 13 countries, including Denmark, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Sweden, signed a document rejecting the idea. “We do not support unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process toward treaty change,” they wrote.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, although expressing interest in Macron’s proposal, also warned against disappointing long-time EU candidates.
“What is clear is, that this must not and will not stop us from moving forward with what we have started, namely enabling the accession processes that we have been working on for so long now,” Scholz said at a joint press conference with the French president in Berlin.
“This is especially true for the Western Balkans, which we have already talked about. There are very many of them who have already made very far-reaching preparations, who have also made brave decisions. And this courage must also be rewarded at some point.
“I would simply like to illustrate this with the example of North Macedonia. There have been very brave political leaders who have dared to do something to make it possible for the accession process to be able to start. And we should find a way that this bravery isn’t disappointed.”
President Macron says he would like to discuss the idea at the European Council summit in June, with the aim of getting the ball rolling for an EU convention on treaty change in the near future.
But with so many opponents already making their voices heard, any significant amendments to the way the bloc works may be years off still.
The writer is an Advocate High Court.
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