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 opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, claiming that the EU should first reform the 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.
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 contain seven steps.
During EU accession negotiations, candidates must adopt the entire European law, which is divided into 35 chapters. When the negotiations are completed, an accession treaty is signed and a candidate becomes a full 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 “others”.
When candidates fulfil step one, they would gain access to Eurojust and Europol, for instance, while step five “would make candidate countries eligible for structural funds.”
The French paper “reaffirmed” the EU’s “unequivocal support for the European perspective of Western Balkan countries”. It did not mention Turkey, which is also an EU candidate, but the talks were suspended three years ago.