As EU leaders meet, some fear for EU membership hopes
BRUSSELS (AP) — Leaders from more than 40 countries meeting in the Czech capital on Thursday are set to launch a “European Political Community” aimed at boosting security and prosperity across the continent. But critics say the new forum is an attempt to hold back EU enlargement.
The Prague meeting is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron and is backed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. This is happening with Russia’s war against Ukraine in its eighth month and as pressure mounts to allow Ukraine to join the EU of 27.
“The war in Ukraine and the legitimate aspiration of its people, like that of Moldova and Georgia, to join the European Union, encourages us to rethink our geography and the organization of our continent,” Macron said. in May in a speech setting out his idea.
But even with the influx of support for Ukraine – in the form of weapons so it can fight back, or shelter for those on the run – Macron said: “We all know full well that the process that would allow them to join, would actually take several years, and most likely several decades.
What is needed, Macron said, is “a new area of political and security cooperation, cooperation in the energy sector, in transport, investment, infrastructure, the free movement of people and especially our young people.
His plan – which would involve 44 countries, including current EU members, potential partners in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, as well as Britain and Turkey – mirrors a proposal by former President Francois Mitterrand to unite Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The inaugural summit of the European Political Community at Prague Castle will begin with an opening ceremony, followed by a series of meetings during which leaders will discuss the main challenges facing Europe; security, energy, climate, the dire economic situation and migration.
No EU funding or programs are proposed and no official statements will be issued after the meeting.
The objective, if this summit goes well, would be for the leaders to meet once or twice a year. The forum, said an EU official involved in the preparations, “does not replace existing organisations, structures or processes and does not aim to create new ones at this stage”.
However, Macron’s speech and Scholz’s remarks in August raised fears that the European Political Community could become a “second-class ticket” to join the EU, given the almost glacial pace of accession negotiations in recent years. .
Several Balkan countries have been waiting around two decades for membership – Turkey even longer – and progress has been stalled by objections from just one EU member country, most recently Greece, then Bulgaria in the case of the hopes of Albania and North Macedonia.
“Macron’s specification that ‘we may not all live in the same house, but we do share the same street’ fuels skepticism that these structures could indefinitely relegate the Balkan and other candidates to the EU in the waiting room,” said Marta Mucznik, from the European Policy Think Tank.
“If member states stopped hijacking enlargement for reasons that have more to do with their domestic politics than with the process as such, then the EU would be one step closer to finding a remedy for the current stalemate,” she wrote in an analysis of the plan. .
But in a speech in Prague in August, Scholz insisted that the new grouping “is not an alternative to the upcoming EU enlargement process. After all, we gave our word to our candidates for membership… and those words must finally be followed by deeds.
That said, he suggested that a bloc of 30 or more members could become unwieldy and he stressed that “we also need to make the EU itself fit for this major enlargement”, which would involve six Balkan countries, and possibly Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the future. Turkey’s hopes are on hold.
Indeed, the exercise of once relatively rare national vetoes has become a common phenomenon, especially in the case of Hungary. Each country has also insisted on having its own political commissar within the executive branch of the EU, the European Commission, which proposes laws and enforces them.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament – the bloc’s only democratically elected institution – has also grown to over 750 members.
“Just letting EU enlargement progress slowly through the current uncertain process will turn politically meaningful engagement with Ukraine, Moldova and other candidates into a daunting obstacle course,” said the Bruegel think tank in its analysis.
The new forum, he said, should not be “seen as a substitute for EU membership, but should be designed to function as an accelerator. For countries not seeking to join the EU, this would provide a permanent framework that would support structured cooperation with the EU.
Whether this message is heard and believed by the many countries hoping to join the world‘s largest trading bloc should be known by the end of the summit on Thursday evening. Proof of its worth will likely only come after a second summit is held.