Paris is taking stock of the first results of its proposal earlier this month to create a European Political Community. Such a structure should become a kind of gateway for those countries that, according to the Elysee Palace, will not be able to count on admission to the EU as full members for a long time, but could in the meantime start cooperating with the EU within the framework of the proposed community.
The author of the project was the head of the French state Emmanuel Macron. On behalf of France, the current six-month EU presidency, he presented his plan on May 9 at meetings with the European Parliament in Strasbourg and with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. According to the French leader, the time has come to “rethink the geography and organization” of cooperation. The European Union, he believes, cannot remain “the only means of structuring” interaction.
The creation of a community, they believe in Paris, would allow cooperation in the field of security, energy, transport, investment, and infrastructure. According to the president’s plan, the proposed model would ensure that not only Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova seeking EU membership, but also those who left the EU or refrained from joining, would be included in the orbit of interaction.
Without reducing requirements
The creation of a “gateway”, they point out in Paris, would make it possible not to reduce the requirements for candidates for the EU. Macron admits that for Ukraine, the EU could establish an accelerated procedure for obtaining candidate status, but “due to European standards and criteria, it will take years, and quite likely even decades, before the country can join the EU.”
The project was supplemented with new details by the direct Parisian curator of European politics, Clement Bon, who was elevated last Friday to the rank of Minister – Delegate to the French Foreign Ministry for European Affairs during the reorganization of the government. He warned that Ukraine’s accession would be a “very long process” that would no doubt take 15 or 20 years. But for the waiting period, the EU, the minister believes, should offer the country a political project in which it can participate.
The reaction to the proposal, as one might expect, was mixed. In Kyiv, the French project was categorically rejected. Ukraine does not need “surrogates for candidate status,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said. He saw in this idea an approach to Ukraine as a second-class country.
The European Commission may submit Ukraine’s candidacy for consideration by the upcoming EU summit in June. This will be followed by a long negotiation process, during which the candidate’s readiness to join should be considered article by article in order to harmonize the norms of national legislation with European ones in the economic, social, legal, agricultural and other fields.
According to the weekly Le Canard enchaîné, in the Ukrainian corridors, the authorities reproach Paris for the fact that since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, Macron “did not visit Kiev himself and did not send the French Prime Minister there.” According to the publication, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is opposed to the French project. According to Ukraine, “the EU should accept it into its ranks as soon as possible, whether the French president likes it or not.” At the same time, German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock, who met with Zelensky in Kyiv last week, also stressed at this meeting that there is no “shortcut” to the EU.
The idea of Paris caused a wary attitude among politicians close to Kyiv. For example, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda explained the French proposal by a “lack of political will” in resolving the issue of Ukraine’s admission to the EU.
Chisinau’s reaction was more diplomatic. Moldov-an President Maia Sandu, who visited Paris on Thur-sday, said she “welcomes President Macron’s idea.” The creation of a community, she believes, “would ac-celerate and support Mold-ova’s accession to the EU.”
Autonomy to the USA
Paris emphasizes that the project is addressed not only to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Countries that are in the process of joining the organization, including Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Albania, could also take advantage of this form of cooperation with the EU. The door to the EU would formally remain open for Turkey, despite the tepid attitude in the EU towards strengthening ties with Ankara. Kosovo could also cooperate with the EU, despite the refusal of a number of European countries to officially recognize Pristina.
France is ready to see in the new community both t-he UK that has left the Eu-ropean Union and Switze-rland and Norway, which are not inclined to join the EU. London, however, does not share Macron’s desire.
According to British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, she prefers to deal with those structures that are already functioning, be it the Group of Seven or NATO. In an interview with the Italian Corriere della Sera, she noted that the partnership is being implemented within the Group of Seven plus the EU “to impose sanctions against Russia.” According to her, the UK is also “cooperating with European countries in supplying the Ukrainian defense.”
According to Parisian analysts, France does not have the necessary majority to resolve the issue soon. Yves Bertonsini, the president of the French public “European Movement”, makes the outcome dependent on how Macron’s proposal is interpreted. Some will consider that the “gateway” being created will help the country’s rapprochement with the EU, while others, Bertonsini noted, “may consider it hell.”
This is not the first time the idea of a “gateway” has been put forward in the EU. A similar formula, French political analysts recall, was once proposed by one of Macron’s predecessors, Socialist President Francois Mitterrand. Two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he proposed creating a kind of gateway to the European Union, which then numbered 12 members, to receive the co-untries of Central Europe. He saw the “European Confederation” he had conceived as a more flexible structure than the EU. He aimed to form – without US support – a framework for political cooperation so that Europe would become “totally European.” According to his idea, this would allow for extensive cooperation without interfering with the functioning of the European Union.”
Initially, Mitterrand’s project was met with approval. For a year and a half, during each visit to his European neighbors, Mitterrand discussed his project, trying to convince his interlocutors. But in June 1991, at a meeting in Prague, which brought together representatives of all European states, the Mitterrand project was buried. The idea of a “gateway” was rejected by the Eastern European countries, who considered it an attempt by France to slow down the enlargement of the EU. The countries of Eastern and Western Europe also did not like Mitterrand’s idea of inviting the Soviet Union, which had not yet collapsed at that time, into the “European Confederation”.
According to the publication, the French project “the autonomy of Europe in relation to the United States received the support of Germany, Italy and Spain.” According to the weekly, this testifies to its viability. How far, however, will France have time to move towards its agreement, given that its presidency of the European Union ends on June 30?