Western Balkan countries should become EU members, but that should happen through a new step-by-step process, France has proposed.
Last month France vetoed the launch of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, claiming that the EU should first reform its enlargement policy. Now the country has put forward more specific ideas on what that should look like based on the gradual association of candidate countries before they become full members.
France has circulated to EU diplomats an informal, six-page paper which should serve as the basis for debate in EU institutions.
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The first debate could be held on Tuesday at a meeting of the General Affairs Council, and the new European Commission could flesh out more detailed proposals in January 2020.
According to the new French model, cited by the EUobserver website, the new accession process would comprise seven steps.
During EU accession negotiations, candidates must adopt the entire European Acquis (the body of EU law), which is divided into 35 chapters. When the negotiations are completed, an accession treaty is signed and a candidate becomes a full-fledged member after the treaty is ratified by all member states.
After the seven-step process, each candidate state would gain access to selected EU policies and programmes.
The seven steps are rule of law and fundamental rights; education and research; employment and social affairs; financial affairs; the single market, agriculture, and fish; foreign affairs; and other.
If candidates graduated step one, they could gain entry to Eurojust, the EU judicial cooperation club in The Hague, for instance, France said.
Step two could see them win access to the so-called Horizon 2020 science programme and let Balkan universities take part in the Erasmus student exchange scheme, the French paper added.
Step four could see them join the EU banking union, while step five would “make candidate countries eligible for structural funds” – the multi-billion euro subsidies.
“Completion of negotiations corresponding to each step taken by the country would open the possibility to participate in corresponding EU programmes, to be associated to certain relevant sectoral policies, and, where appropriate, to benefit from certain targeted funding,” the French paper said.
The “final objective remains full and entire accession”, it added.
EU affairs ministers will hold initial talks on the French ideas in Brussels on Tuesday.
They would have to agree to any changes by unanimity.
But if things went well, then the European Commission ought to flesh out the ideas in legal documents by January 2020, France noted.
And that might mean the EU reforms could still be put in place, or, at least, agreed in principle, in time for a summit with Western Balkan leaders in Zagreb in May.
This post is also available in: Italiano