French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday proposed a new political organization to bring together countries on the continent that share European Union values but are not part of the bloc.
Macron’s suggestion came after he warned that decades could pass before Ukraine joins the European Union and as a result needed to be given some hope in the short term.
During a speech marking Europe Day in Strasbourg, the French president said he was in favor of a new type of political European community that would allow countries outside the EU, including Ukraine and Britain, to join the “European core values.”
“Ukraine by its fight and its courage is already a heartfelt member of our Europe, of our family, of our union,” Macron said.
“Even if we grant it candidate status tomorrow, we all know perfectly well that the process of allowing (Ukraine) to join would take several years indeed, in fact probably several decades.”
Macron spoke after the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, said it aims to deliver the first opinion in June on Ukraine’s request to become a member of the bloc.
Once candidate status is granted, the process of EU membership usually takes years and any single member-state can veto not only any final accession deal, but also the opening and closing of individual negotiation chapters.
The 27 EU nations have been fully united in backing Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, adopting economic sanctions against Moscow since the start of the war on Feb. 24. But leaders are divided on how fast Brussels could move to accept Ukraine as a member, and how swiftly the bloc could sever energy ties with Moscow.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that she discussed Monday with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy “EU support and Ukraine’s European pathway.”
For now, Ukraine only has an “Association Agreement” with the EU, which is aimed at opening the country’s markets and bringing it closer to Europe. It includes a far-reaching free trade pact and is intended to help modernize Ukraine’s economy.
Eastern European countries warmly support speeding up Ukraine’s membership bid, but EU officials have stressed the process could take years due to the billing reforms that still need to be achieved before the war-torn country EU meets criteria.
Macron said a fast-track procedure for Ukraine would lead to lowering standards, an idea he refuses.
“The European Union, given its level of integration and ambition, cannot be the only way to structure the European continent in the short term,” he said.
Instead, Macron proposed what he called a “European Political Community,” a parallel entity that could appeal to countries that aspired to join the bloc or countries that had left the union in an apparent reference to Britain.
“This new European organization would allow democratic European nations that adhere to our core values to find a new space for political cooperation, security, energy cooperation, transport, investment, infrastructure, movement of people,” Macron said.
He added that joining the new organization would not guarantee future EU membership.
“Joining it would not necessarily prejudge future EU membership,” he said. “Nor would it be closed to those who left it.”
Speaking at an EU conference on the bloc’s future priorities, Macron stressed the stark contrast with Russia, which on the same day staged a military parade in Moscow to commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
“We have given two very different images of May 9,” Macron said. “On the one side, there was a desire to demonstrate force and intimidation and a resolutely war-like speech, and there was here … an association of citizens andarians – national and European – for a project on our future.”