Nothing irreparable, nothing irreversible, but beware! A gap is opening up in the Union between its two main powers, France and Germany on the one hand, and on the other, all the states that have left the Soviet bloc or the USSR itself. Before this gets worse and Vladimir Putin can believe he is in a position to take advantage of it, misunderstandings must be cleared up, and it is up to France to do this, because it is the country that arouses the most fear in Central and Eastern Europe.
The former communist countries reproach Germany for its reluctance to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine and for its refusal to give up Russian gas without further delay. They see Germany as selfish and cowardly, but they criticize it less in substance, because they believe that the Chancellor and his Social Democrat friends will eventually evolve under pressure from the Christian Democrat opposition and the two other parties in the government coalition, the Liberals and the Greens.
On the other hand, the former communist countries reproach France for renewing its historical Russophilia, which would lead it to want to avoid an outright defeat for Vladimir Putin by looking for a “way out” for him. Unlike the Germans, who would only like to defend their comfort and their money, we French would be inclined, in a word, to handle Russia carefully by playing down the threats it poses to the countries that the fall of the Wall has removed from under its control.
However caricatured and untrue they may be, these reproaches are too vehemently and frequently expressed for France to continue to ignore them. Emmanuel Macron must respond. He must do so as soon as possible by cutting short the bad trial he has been subjected to since he proposed to bring together in a “European political community” the countries that are candidates to the Union but cannot yet be integrated because of their level of economic and political development.
Formulated on 9 May in the Strasbourg Parliament, this idea was immediately seen as a way of closing the door to Ukraine’s entry into the Union or at least refusing it the status of candidate country that it would like to obtain before the summer. What Emmanuel Macron had said, on the contrary, was that no country should remain suspended in a long political vacuum between the obtaining of its candidate country status and its actual entry into the Union.
It was to fill this vacuum by tightening and multiplying the links between the Union and the candidate countries that he had suggested the creation of this new structure. At one stroke, he was reaching out to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia and the countries of the Western Balkans, but for a quarter of a century, France has so consistently preferred to deepen European unity rather than widen its ranks that the President of the Republic has not been understood.
He was misunderstood so badly that he tried to put things right by declaring on Thursday, in front of the Moldovan president, that his proposal for a political community was in no way an alternative to the Union. This was a clear statement, but it was in vain, as the suspicion remains that France wants to keep Ukraine at a distance from the Union in the hope of more easily reaching a compromise with Vladimir Putin. Volodymyr Zelensky has therefore just said that he rejects this idea of a Community and the President of the Republic must thus go further than a simple clarification.
He should say that he considers it essential to draw the candidate countries into the Union’s wake by associating them, whenever they are willing and able to do so, with the Union’s initiatives and policies, and that this was his sole concern on 9 May, and that the rest is only a question of means.
The Political Community could be one of them, but the Union could just as easily reorganise itself from top to bottom in order to be able to quickly welcome into its midst all the countries whose candidacy it has accepted. This would imply returning to Jacques Delors’ concentric circles and making the Union a three-stage rocket, whose stages, when the time comes, any member state wishing to do so could climb into.
On the first stage would be the countries simply bound by the common market and respect for the rule of law. On the second stage would be all the countries whose legislation would incorporate the acquis communautaire, membership of the euro zone, the green deal and the ban on all forms of social and fiscal dumping. Finally, the third stage would include a smaller number of Member States, those that would pool their defence, foreign policy and investments in the industries of the future.
It would not be a question of France pleading one choice rather than the other, but of saying that Ukraine must be anchored to the Union without delay, that this implies one day passing to some thirty-five members, that the current institutions would not allow this and that it is therefore necessary to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of all the possible innovations.
The three-stage solution would require the most political imagination and legal inventiveness. In particular, it would be necessary to redefine the place and role of the Parliament by giving it two chambers. The Community solution would have the advantage of being institutionally easier but the formidable disadvantage of constituting the candidate countries as a separate entity that could seek to carry weight on its own by relying on the United States or Great Britain.
The choice is not obvious, but by proposing the debate while saying it is in favour of granting candidate country status to Ukraine, France would prevent the Union from cracking and then breaking up. France would regain the upper hand and no one could then reproach it for wanting to maintain contact with the Kremlin in order to promote, once aggression has been defeated, a compromise that would not repeat the tragic mistake of the Treaty of Versailles.