Following the veto of opening EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, the French government has released a non-paper proposing a number of reforms to the European Union accession process.
It states that France offers “unequivocal support to the European perspective of Western Balkan countries” and that joining the EU is the only way for them to consolidate “based on the rule of law and open and pluralistic societies, pursue their economic and social development, give their youth a future perspective, and promote reconciliation between people.”
Twenty years after recognising the EU perspective of Western Balkan countries, despite the reforms undertaken, the political, economic, and social transformations required for accession are “too slow” and the “concrete benefits for citizens in candidate countries remain insufficient”.
The renewed approach being proposed centres around four core principles: gradual association; stringent conditions; tangible benefits and reversibility. By following these new guidelines, the paper says that accession would be more gradual and incentivising for candidate countries, whilst ensuring the principles of the EU stay intact.
Once negotiations with a candidate country are opened, the French are proposing that thematic chapters are opened in successive stages rather than simultaneously. This would result in coherent policy blocks that would take into account the specific features and requirements of each country as appropriate. To be able to proceed to the next stage, each country would have to demonstrate that it had effectively-respected specific criteria with the rule of law and fundamental rights remaining at the forefront.
The criteria for the satisfaction of each stage would be laid out in detail, making it clear whether a country had satisfied each requirement in an effective and sustainable manner. It would have to demonstrate that this progress would not be irreversible in the case of the rule of law.
In the paper, it is suggested that criteria and indicators could be provided by the European Union, Council of Europe, the Venice Commission, GRECO, OECD, World Bank, GRECO and Moneyval, with final assessments carried out by EU institutions.
If progress regresses or the candidate no longer meets criteria or fulfils commitments, a proportionate reaction would result. This could include the suspension of benefits granted or general suspension if the European Union’s fundamental values were challenged.
Another aspect would be the need for stronger political governance which would need to be established to support the new process. Ongoing monitoring and reporting would be periodically reviewed by the Commission and the Member States and an annual meeting of the European Council would discuss progress, issues, and common interests.
The order of gradual stages should create a balance between each candidates capabilities, benefits expected, and the need to preserve the integrity of the Union. The final objective would be full and complete accession based on them meeting tangible economic and social convergence objectives.
The French government call on thee Council to ask the Commission to formulate new proposals, based on their suggestions, to define a new method before the next Enlargement Package is published in January 2020.