On May 9, French President Emanuel Macron used his speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Europe Day (which coincides with Anti-Fascist Victory Day, a coincidence of particular importance in 2022) to formulate an “innovative” proposal for redesigning the political map of the European continent.
* Giannis Gounaris, Lawyer, LLM London School of Economics, Doctor of Law EKPA – The analysis is included in the 6th Bulletin of International & European Developments of the Institute of Alternative Policies ENA
In particular, he proposed an organization, a “new European political community” that would give Ukraine (and other non-EU European countries) a closer relationship with the latter, without being a member state. The event coincided with the closing ceremony of the Conference on the Future of Europe, an EU introspection process that was also Macron’s spiritual son.
However, the French leader was extremely sparing in the details of his proposal. At first reading, he seemed driven by a desire to find a solution to war-torn Ukraine, which has called for (perhaps more accurately) a swift EU membership after the Russian invasion. Macron referred to the “legitimate and legitimate desire of the people of Ukraine, as well as Moldova and Georgia, to join the European Union.” At the same time, however, he seemed to be shattering Kiev’s hopes for a fasttrack process – certainly without being the only European leader in it.
Indeed, as he pointed out, even if Ukraine became an official candidate country tomorrow, the whole process would take years, probably several decades. And the result would be uncertain. It is enough to see the case of the candidate (by name, at least) Turkey. Unless the political and economic criteria for membership plummeted, which would have incalculable consequences for the already severely shattered EU internal cohesion and the prestige of the acquis communautaire.
A not so new idea
This is not the first time that a similar organization of EU relations with other European countries has been proposed, which shows that the idea itself has value and potentially solves an existing question: Europe is not limited to the EU, it is so simple. To date, this has been dealt with rather fragmentarily and in different ways, either in the pre-accession process, or in association agreements, customs union and so on, or in ad hoc agreements, as in the case of Norway, Switzerland and Britain.
An overall arrangement that would offer a flexible scheme of cooperation with common rules and procedures would greatly simplify things and could be a new model for European integration in the 21st century. In this respect, perhaps more interesting is an aversion to Macron’s speech implying that his political community would be open even in the United Kingdom: This new European body would allow “democratic European nations that uphold our values” To find new space for political co-operation in the fields of security, energy, transport, investment, infrastructure and human trafficking, whereas membership would not prejudge future EU membership nor would it be closed “In countries that have left”. This is of great interest, as it was precisely Britain’s demands that it enjoy some of the privileges of being a Member State, avoiding the corresponding obligations that led to Brexit. If Macron’s political community existed in 2016, things might have been different.
However, the proposal is not without its problems, especially given its current ambiguity, which, however, can be corrected in the future. The most important obstacles he will face, however, are political, not structural. Macron has already tried to persuade German Chancellor Olaf Soltz of his idea, who seemed to welcome her politely but “cautiously”. The main objection of the Germans (and not only) is that the European political community could be interpreted as a substitute for accession, both by the countries of the Western Balkans and by Ukraine (and Moldova and Georgia, all »Cases for different reasons). The reactions of the countries aspiring to join the EU were typically frozen, with Kyiv being the first to reject it as a “concession to Russia”.
Trying to find a way out
However, the problem of Ukraine’s EU membership is not the only one facing the EU at this stage – not even the most important. Already in the post-pandemic economic landscape and before the Russo-Ukrainian war broke out, Macron, along with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and several other EU leaders, was pushing for a permanent “relaxation” of the Stability and Growth Pact to allow exceptions. on specific categories of expenditure. Paris has also formulated the idea of creating a new financial instrument, similar to the Recovery Fund, to finance investments in digital and green transitions or defense and to mitigate the effects of rising energy prices. The Germans, the leader of the well-known group of “Feidols”, have so far rejected these demands.
The war in Ukraine has exacerbated these problems, creating new ones at the same time. The continuation of the war for a long time and the development on the battlefields is clearly not something that the European governments expected. The EU’s choice to fully and unreservedly align itself with the US in a logic of “strategic defeat” for Russia has trapped it in a difficult position that harms it more than the “enemy”. The sanctions do not seem to have any effect on Moscow’s willingness to continue the war, but they do have consequences for the already hurt European economies. The case of the payment of gas through the mechanism actually imposed by the Kremlin is indicative of an extremely problematic situation that is getting worse every day as the war continues. This is the consequence of the absence of an autonomous European initiative for a ceasefire and the start of peace negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the Ukrainian issue on the basis of the Minsk Agreements, when there was still room for such a thing. Europe is now as if it has gone deep into a “burrow”, it can not get out of where it came from and its only option is to continue digging in the hope that it will find another way out.
France, Germany and Italy seem to realize this. Their timid and inadequate allusions to returning to the negotiating table, however, are seen as a sign of Moscow’s defeatism and appeasement. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. That is why, according to this somewhat bizarre reading of reality, some Western European capitals (ie, Paris, Berlin and Rome) favor a diplomatic solution to the conflict, even if it costs Ukraine the loss of some territory – something that, however, is slowly beginning to be hinted at even by NATO. Loss of territory that could have been avoided or even significantly reduced if the fighting had stopped in the first days of the war.
Going forward or exercising in vain?
In the midst of all this, the Conference on the Future of Europe presented its final report on the reform of the way the EU operates, including the revision of the Treaties. The pandemic could be blamed for the fact that the Conference was little heard during its work, but that would be just an easy excuse. The real reason is that, in fact, there is little interest in a substantial change in the way the EU works and even less appetite for a new round of transnational negotiations to change the Treaties – which were last revised by the Treaty of Lisbon, which followed the fiasco of the European Constitution. Even so, even if it did exist, it would not be expressed through a rather communicative process like the one followed, in order to give the slogan of “participation of European citizens”. The latter realize, in the vast majority, precisely the magnitude of their involvement and influence in the EU decision-making process.
This, of course, does not seem to discourage the European Parliament. In particular, after the end of the Conference, Parliament adopted by an overwhelming majority a resolution calling on EU leaders to convene a European Convention in order to “urgently” amend the European Treaties. Their aim, inter alia: To give Parliament the “right to propose, amend or repeal legislation”, ie the legislative initiative currently available only to the European Commission, and, most importantly, to repeal the rules that require EU unanimity in certain decisions, including the imposition of sanctions.
The debate on the reform of the Treaties has been going on regularly since 2008, but nowhere does it appear that the problem in the functioning of the EU is within its legal framework and that it can be resolved through individual changes to some articles and procedures. Especially the issue of unanimity in the Council is extremely sensitive and the (theoretical, at least) possibility of lifting the national veto on foreign policy and security issues should be of more concern to the current Greek government: It is not at all certain that such a thing would serve the interests. and the positions of Greece on a number of critical issues, starting first, of course, with Greek-Turkish relations. Nor should it be taken for granted that it would solve the EU’s internal cohesion problem. How, indeed, can a (theoretically sovereign) state be forced to pursue a policy which it considers detrimental to its national interests or security , because that is what the Council decided by a majority? Most likely, such a thing would lead to even greater discord and division, not less. The solution to the EU problem is more flexibility, not rigidity.
It is now up to EU leaders to decide whether to start the process. But in reality, changing the Treaties and abolishing unanimity would also require consensus, which at the moment seems extremely unlikely. Several EU governments have already made it clear that they oppose an “early” project to revise the Treaties, arguing that the move will divert the bloc’s attention from more pressing and immediate issues (an unsubstantiated argument). Another argument against opening this Pandora’s box (which also has no basis) is that it is a long and arduous intergovernmental negotiation process that could pose any kind of unforeseen political risk, including referendums. If this derailed the European Constitution in 2005 and almost derailed Lisbon in 2008, the chances of it happening again in 2023 or 2024 are probably higher.
Most importantly, however, the EU could well implement many of the citizens’ proposals at the Conference, but also make significant policy changes without major changes to the Treaties – which are rather unlikely anyway. It has demonstrated this quite recently, with the activation of the general escape clause, the “creative flexibility” in the interpretation of the ECB’s Statute and the establishment of the NextGenerationEU Recovery Fund. Such a realistic and practical approach would possibly be much more useful and effective.
However, Emanuel Macron has big plans for Europe. And he can not resist the temptation of an initiative that will reflect the grandeur of France – and his own, by the way.