President Macron has caused much speculation by proposing – but with little detail – the creation of a new ‘European political community’, which he says could even involve the UK.
Reaction to Russian invasion of Ukraine
Unlike the EU, which was founded on cooperation over trade but became much broader over the years, he said the new ‘community’ would bring together democratic European nations with shared “core values” to cooperate in terms of politics, security, energy, transport, investment, infrastructure and “the movement of people, especially our youth”.
European policy analyst Johannes Greubel told The Connexion it was a reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been unsettling to European politics.
EU membership too slow to benefit Ukraine
Mr Macron outlined his vision, involving the EU states entering into a wider, less binding partnership with neighbouring non-members such as the UK and Ukraine, during a speech at the EU Parliament at the end of a conference on Europe’s future.
His comments came in the context of France’s current EU Council presidency and related to speculation on how to offer Ukraine greater protection.
He said: “Even if tomorrow we granted Ukraine the status of candidate for EU membership, we all know very well that the process allowing them to join would take several years – in truth, probably decades.”
That would not change unless they lowered their standards, he said.
Need to cooperate with UK
Mr Greubel, of the European Policy Centre, said Mr Macron’s idea is a “strategic proposal” as the EU tries to rethink its place in the world, in political terms.
His claim that the UK would be welcome was “surprising”, given recent Brexit struggles which showed the EU had not wanted the UK to enjoy the benefits of membership without adhering to its rules.
However, Mr Greubel said: “I think he wants the community to be as inclusive as possible… even if French-British relations have been difficult in recent months.
“Because of the situation in Ukraine, in terms of regional security and energy… it simply requires cooperation, including with the UK.
“And not just through Nato, but broader than that.”
EU leaders hesitant to adopt wide-scale reforms
Mr Greubel added: “I think Macron strategically left the details ambiguous to let other member states contribute to the discussion on it and shape it as they want.
“It’s too early to say what will happen. It depends on how member states react in coming weeks. How will discussions in European Council summits go? What constructive feedback will the proposal get?”
Mr Greubel said he did not expect any concrete developments in the short term as it would take work to convince many EU leaders who are hesitant to adopt wide scale reforms.
European youth is key to concept
Head of Sciences Po’s social sciences institute Cevipof Florent Parmentier and Florent Marciacq of Fondation Jean Jaurès speculated further on what the idea might mean in an article for theconversation.com
They said it might bring a new enlarged concept of ‘European citizenship’, no longer limited to EU membership.
They hoped to see the youth of member states educated in values of European democracy, history, culture and languages and offered new opportunities to travel and take part in exchanges from a young age when they start to form their political identities.
There could also be a form of European civil or military service, they said.
UK PM Boris Johnson idea of ‘European Commonwealth’
Meanwhile, Italian daily newspaper Il Corriere della Sera claims UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been sounding out Ukraine’s president and other leaders about a ‘European Commonwealth’.
The paper, citing reports from attendees at the World Economic Forum at Davos, said this would be a political, economic and military alliance among countries “united by diffidence towards Brussels and to the German response to Russia’s military aggression”.
Poland, the Baltic states and possibly Turkey are being approached, it claims, saying Ukraine’s president may be waiting for news of his country’s EU candidacy before deciding whether to consider it.
The plan has not been confirmed by the UK.