On 9 May 2022, Emmanuel Macron proposed the creation of a new European Political Community (EPC) to the European Parliament, which was supported by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. A similar concept was outlined by former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta following the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war. This new cooperation structure would allow Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Macedonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, and “those exiting the EU” (the United Kingdom and Iceland, which has decided to suspend accession negotiations) to become part of a “political Europe” faster. At the closing event of the conference on the future of Europe, the French president said that as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the way the continent is organised needs to be rethought. According to Macron, “This new political organisation would allow European nations that embrace our core values to find a new space for political cooperation, security, and energy and transport cooperation, and to invest in infrastructure where people, especially young people, can move.” According to the proposal, the countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe listed may be economically linked to the European Union but may not be full EU members. Macron did not elaborate on the implementation of all this but quoted the plan of the late Socialist French President François Mitterand for a “European Confederation”.
François Mitterand first outlined his proposal for a confederation in a speech on 30 December 1989. The aim of Paris was primarily to build economic relations in the post-socialist countries, thus gaining a new market for French companies. The then president envisioned a flexible Eruopean confederation based on a legal charter, of which any democratic state on the continent could have been a member, providing an opportunity for intensified political dialogue. In addition to Germany, Mitterand’s plan was not supported by other Western countries or the then President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, who believed it could hinder future enlargements. After the French president acknowledged in an interview with Radio France Internationale on 12 June 1991 that he considered the accession of the former socialist bloc to the European Communities to be feasible only decades later, the Visegrad countries also backed out from the confederate vision. The conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty on 17 February 1992 sealed the fate of the European Confederation, and Western Europe was in favour of accelerating and deepening integration and the creation of the European Union. The plan of a confederation-like European Political Community visioned by Macron is not a novelty. Like Mitterand’s vision, the EPC also remained a proposal. The creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was based on the declared intention of the founding members to take the first step on the road to a “European federation”. The common coal and steel market was intended to be an experiment that could be later gradually extended to other economic sectors until a “political” Europe was finally created. In 1952, the EPC was planned to set up as a merger between the ECSC and the European Defence Community (EDC), which was also a proposal. However, in 1954 the French National Assembly refused to ratify the EDC, claiming that its creation would lead to a significant loss of sovereignty. At the same time, the plan of the EPC also failed.
The vision of the EPC outlined by Emmanuel Macron would implement the concept of a “two-speed Europe”, which contravenes the EU’s principle that a supranational organisation is an alliance of sovereign nation states on an equal footing [Article 4 (2) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)] and its aim to promote and deepen integration [Preamble and Article 3 of TEU]. A “two-speed Europe” means that there are some countries that are more and some that are less involved in integration, meaning that the community is divided into first and second class Member States. Following a summit of the heads of EU Member States, Viktor Orbán said in Brussels on 10 March 2017 that “A two-speed Europe cannot be created, so there is no first and second class Europe, no core and periphery. In any way, this two-speed Europe is one of the most obnoxious thoughts for us […].” Closer cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans and bringing them closer to the European Union in legal terms is not a problem in itself, it is in fact an initiative to be supported, as long as it promotes rather than circumvents the accession process. A positive example is the idea of a “Mini-Schengen”, which will eventually be implemented as the “Open Balkans” from 2022 onwards and will include a regional “mini common market”. Agreements containing these were signed on 21 December 2021 by Albania, Northern Macedonia and Serbia, under which the three states have access to each other’s labour markets, goods and services can flow freely between the countries with minimal control and citizens can enter each other’s territory without being kept waiting. The “Mini-Schengen” agreement provides an opportunity to extend free movement to countries that are already members of the European Schengen Area. The creation of the “Mini-Schengen” was also welcomed by the V4 states, with the foreign ministers of the four countries saying in a joint statement: “We believe that such close cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans will contribute to the stability and development of the region. The Visegrad countries continue to support the acceleration of the EU enlargement process.”
In contrast to the “Open Balkans”, the EPC’s proposal, which was announced by the French president on 9 May, would delay the long-awaited – and strategic – accession of the six South-Eastern European countries to the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina are potential candidates for membership. The former submitted its application for membership in February 2016, and the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the latter entered into force in April 2016. The Republic of Northern Macedonia has been a candidate since December 2005 and Albania since June 2014. Montenegro and Serbia are – de iure – the closest to EU membership, which have had accession negotiations with Brussels since June 2012 and January 2014, respectively. Leaders in Brussels also declared their support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on 17 May 2018 and in Zagreb on 6 May 2020. The structure of cooperation outlined by Macron suggests an alternative for these countries, meaning that they would not become full EU members, would lack several powers, and would only have an economic and political connection – looser than a membership – between the states participating exclusively in the EPC and the EU countries. The creation of such a new political organisation would also dilute and circumvent the law of the European Union, as the long process of membership and the preconditions for accession are governed by binding normative rules. However, being a new construction, the EPC and the entry into it could be transformed by Western countries and Brussels as they please. As a first step to membership, the country concerned must meet the accession criteria set by the European Council at its summit in Copenhagen in June 1993 (the “Copenhagen criteria”), which set out a number of democratic, economic and political conditions for countries wishing to join the EU:
- Stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
- The existence of a functioning market economy and the ability of a country to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU.
- The ability to take on and effectively implement the obligations of membership, including the embracement of the pursuit of political, economic and monetary unity.
It is also an essential precondition for accession that the EU is able to integrate new members. Based on what Macron has said, the criterion for joining the EPC, in addition to being located on the continent, is only the respect for EU principles, which is extremely worrisome for two main reasons. One is that ignoring economic considerations would seriously jeopardise the EU’s economic stability, with unforseeable consequences in the current international situation. The other is that Brussels has its own interpretation of the fundamental values enshrined in Article 2 of TEU, in particular the rule of law, and it uses this subjective interpretation, as we have seen in the rule of law reports on Hungary and Poland, as a political bludgeon against “ideologically inappropriate” states, blackmailing governments that do not embrace the ideology of open societies with legal and economic sanctions.
The framework provided by the EPC would favour Brussles’ federalist aspirations, as while EU membership must be voted on unanimously by the Council of the European Union, the new political body in the proposal no longer has an adopted legal framework, so the need for consensus on the admission of new countries could be easily avoided. The rich elite and left-liberal politicians in the EU have long sought to move from unanimity to majority decision-making and the abolition of the right to veto, which can be seen as a new level of move towards a federation, as well as an open and deliberate violation of the Treaties. On 9 May 2022, Emmanuel Macron said that, in line with the EPC proposal, he would support the amendment of the EU Treaties, but since this requires unanimity, its the political reality is extremely low.