France’s Proposal for
European Political Community
An answer to Europe’s problems?
In early May 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the creation of a “European Political Community” (EPC) which allows European nations “that subscribe to our shared core values” to cooperate in security, energy, transport, infrastructures and the free movement of people. The basic idea is to include EU member states and candidate countries, such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova – all three states have become candidate countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The proposal also included the UK, suggesting that EU withdrawal is no impediment to close cooperation in the context of the proposed EPC. The EPC could be, according to Macron, a practical answer to the multiple challenges Europe is facing. Germany has cautiously welcomed the proposal, and it is certain that the EPC will be further discussed between the two governments and beyond.
Is such a community, however, realistic? What would be the consequences of its formation?
Let’s find out answers to these questions:
Why the proposal?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the EU’s security agenda and has forced it to the forefront of the debate on dormant issues. The Western orientation of Ukraine is no longer a matter of backdoor diplomacy but the professed desire of a government that enjoys unprecedented support from its besieged population. The EU institutions could not deny Kyiv’s membership application, and Paris is aware of that.
On the other hand, France and some other EU member states – such as the Netherlands – have been, and remain, reluctant to allow enlargement to go ahead. They argue that the 27-member Union is already dysfunctional and further enlargement will only slow down the institutions, as well as reduce the Union’s value in the eyes of citizens. For this reason, France has proposed a new enlargement methodology, though along with the Netherlands, it had blocked the accession talks of Albania and North Macedonia in the past. Moreover, Macron was facing a parliamentary election: The presidential election results and the strong showing of Marine Le Pen indicate that Euroscepticism remains popular in France. Macron’s suggestion implies that the EU needs more internal reform before further enlargement, a long-standing argument expressed by Paris in the past.
Why France proposed it?
Considering Macron’s recent re-election and the concepts he once voiced including European sovereignty, end of Western hegemony and the brain death of NATO, he should have multiple considerations behind proposing the establishment of a political community, which includes Ukraine.
First, this is an inevitable choice to realize the revival of French position. Macron regards reviving France’s status as his mission and closely ties his personal reputation to the future of the country. But he also knows that France’s national strength is limited, and it is necessary to rely on Europe to magnify France’s status. Therefore, Europeanism has always been one of the cores of Macron’s thought. Macron has become Europe’s de facto leader and spokesperson, after former German chancellor Angela Merkel left politics, and he certainly will not stop the pace of leading European construction.
Second, this is a possible solution to Europe’s current predicament. Europe is now struggling with both internal and external problems. The aftermath of Brexit is still unresolved, as the UK and the EU are arguing over the Northern Ireland Protocol. At the same time, Poland and Hungary are constantly at odds with EU institutions due to internal and judicial affairs. There are conflicts inside Europe. How to hold back EU member states that are at odds and quasi-member states outside the EU has become a problem that Macron, the “last president of Europe,” needs to face urgently.
Europe’s strategic autonomy
Macron’s proposal is also an attempt to rebuild Europe’s strategic autonomy. At present, the competition between major powers is fierce, and Europe has become increasingly powerless, hoping to maintain some independence. But, in fact, although Europe has a stake in the crises that occur in its periphery, it is always powerless when facing them. As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine intensifies, Europe has been forced to strengthen its dependence on NATO, and the US. But this has also, in turn, stimulated European people’s sense of autonomy. After all, leaving their own security to others is too dangerous. Whether it is to reintegrate European powers, or eliminate risks and avoid dependence on others, Macron will take the opportunity to continue promoting Europe’s strategic autonomy.
But with benefits, come risks and costs. There are still many challenges ahead for Macron’s European political community to become a reality.
Will the EPC come to see the light of day?
This is very doubtful, as two similar proposals have failed before. A European Political Community was first suggested amid the Cold War, aiming to create a united Europe by the original six members of the Union and inspired by Italy’s federalist Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi. It failed as soon as the French Assembly defeated the proposal to form a European Defense Community in 1954 and was never discussed again.
In 1989, French President François Mitterrand sought to create momentum around the idea of a European Confederation. No progress was ever made, as Germany focused on reunification and European integration, and Eastern European states — just like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova today — concentrated on the big prize of EU membership.
Although it is true that Russia’s war in Ukraine has vaporized the sense of security that Europe had experienced after the end of the Cold War, a European Political Community is currently accompanied mainly by questions rather than answers. Is it going to be a substitute for EU membership, or can it also be framed as the first step towards it? Is it meant to include candidate countries such as Albania or North Macedonia, or is it designed for more recent applicants whose security is visibly threatened by Moscow? Will it necessitate the formation of other institutions, or will it be limited to summit-level meetings between leaders to coordinate policy?
The first challenge is the support of EU member states, and the attitude of Germany is particularly important. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Macron’s idea is “a very interesting proposal to deal with the big challenge that we are facing,” but also said it should not be used to fob off countries that have already been working for many years toward EU membership. How much of a role Germany will play in the future still remains to be seen. In response to Macron’s proposed revision of EU treaties, 13 EU member countries including Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Poland and Romania have jointly come out against “unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards the EU Treaty change.”
The second challenge is other European partner’s response. An important original intention of building the new political community is to solve the issue of Ukraine joining the EU. According to actual conditions, it may take decades as Macron said. But in fact, Ukraine does not seem to be impressed by Macron’s half-finished proposal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “Ukraine cannot be held at a distance, that is, being admitted and not being admitted at the same time.” Besides, an important target, the UK, does not take it seriously at all. It seems British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still immersed in honeymoon with the US and mutual confrontation with the EU.
Third, the US will definitely hold France back. The US has always regarded Europe as within its own sphere of influence. Washington supports a certain degree of European integration and strength, but Europe can only serve US’ interests and must not go beyond US’ control. Whether it was the instigation of Brexit or inciting the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the US has fulfilled its purpose of dividing and weakening Europe. At present, the US is taking advantage of some European countries’ security concerns to further strengthen its control over Europe and curb the trend of Europe’s independent development. Therefore, the US will cause problems both overtly and covertly.
An alternative to the EU?
The EU cannot get away from the unanimity problem in foreign and security policy, which undermines its voice in the world and ability to act swiftly whenever crises emerge unless it changes its Treaty. If the proposed Community is conceived as a flexible European response that includes but goes beyond member states, it might be a significant step politically, maximizing the collective weight of Europe and bringing together EU members and non-members alike.
However, early reactions suggest that this is a rather optimistic assessment that has provided a possible solution to Europe’s dilemma. Ukraine has already signalled its displeasure with the proposal, seeing it as an attempt to delay its accession to the EU. Once its concrete structure is presented, such a community can be useful only insofar as it acts as a high-level forum of policy coordination for EU members and institutions with other European states interested in joint action and practical solutions to supranational challenges. It cannot and should not be designed as an alternative to EU membership, as this would undermine the Union in the eyes of those aspiring to join it and deal a heavy blow to the soft power credentials that Brussels has long tried to cultivate and encourage.
The writer is a Lahore-based academician and political analyst.
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