Emmanuel Macron has urged the creation of a broad “community” of European democracies to include non-EU members amid calls to reform the way the continent is governed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In a speech to the European Parliament on Monday, Macron also joined a push for the rewriting of EU treaties to speed decision-making in the 27-member bloc.
Macron, re-elected French president last month, recalled that his predecessor François Mitterrand had proposed such a broad European club as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.
Mitterrand’s idea “posed a good question and the question remains — how to organise Europe politically in a broader way than the EU,” Macron said in Strasbourg on the anniversary of Robert Schuman’s 1950 declaration on European integration. “It’s our historic obligation to respond to that today and to create what I would call a European political community.”
He added: “The European Union, given the level of its integration and ambition, cannot be in the short term the only means of structuring the European continent.”
The proposal comes as EU leaders rethink the way the union handles relations with its close neighbours as a result of the war in Ukraine. One of the key questions is how to manage the aspirations of a range of non-EU countries aspiring to join the bloc.
The new community would allow European countries adhering to the EU’s “core values” to co-operate on security, energy, transport, infrastructure and the movement of people, the French president said. Joining it, he added, would not prejudice a country’s application for EU membership.
Macron said he hoped Ukraine would be formally accepted as a candidate for membership, but countries aspiring to become members are likely to view his idea with suspicion, given frustrations that the union has been stalling their applications. Macron said the new club was needed because would-be EU members such as Ukraine were waiting for years and even decades before they could join.
There is also pessimism over the speed with which any of the six countries of the West Balkans — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — will become members.
Macron suggested the community would not only be open to potential EU members, but also to those that had left — a reference to the post-Brexit UK.
The French leader also endorsed the idea of opening up a convention to discuss reforms to EU treaties, echoing a call from the European Parliament and Italian prime minister Mario Draghi last week.
“We will have to reform our texts, it’s clear,” Macron said, adding that he wanted the matter discussed by the EU council as early as June.
Speaking shortly before Macron, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she welcomed the parliament’s willingness to use its powers to propose a convention. “Let’s work on all of this together, with no taboos, no ideological red lines,” she said.
Among the ideas gaining momentum is a demand for the end to unanimous decision-making among EU member states in areas including foreign affairs and security.
Unanimity voting in some key areas “simply no longer makes sense if we want to be able to move faster,” Von der Leyen said, adding that Europe should play a greater role in areas such as health and defence.
Macron backed the use of qualified majority voting on decisions “for our main public policies”.
However a group of 13 member states, including Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Poland and Romania, in a joint paper on Monday warned against “unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards treaty change”.
This, they wrote, “would entail a serious risk of drawing political energy away from the important tasks of finding solutions to the questions to which our citizens expect answers and handling the urgent geopolitical challenges facing Europe”.