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Macron dashes Ukraine's ambitious EU bid, calls for broader club

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a press conference with the German Chancellor at the Chancellery in Berlin on May 9, 2022. (Via AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a broader political club beyond the European Union to include non-member states amid calls for reforms following Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

In a speech to the European Parliament on Monday, Macron said the bloc, "given its level of integration and ambition", could not be the only organizing body of Europe.

"It is our historic obligation... to create what I would describe before you today as a European political community," he stressed, dimming Ukraine's hopes of joining the EU. 

Macron, who won reelection last month, said the broader club would allow European nations adhering to the EU’s “core values” to “find a new space for political cooperation, security, cooperation in energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, the movement of people.”

He went on to push his proposal during his trip to Berlin where he met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, citing the urgency of giving Ukraine and other former soviet countries like Moldova and Georgia, who have applied to join the EU, a place in the heart of Europe.

His remarks came as Ukraine’s EU bid was in part blamed for tensions between Kiev and Moscow.

Ukraine has been strongly lobbying for EU membership and the European Commission has said it will respond to the request next month — before the matter is taken up by member states.

Macron, however, dashed any hopes of swift membership for Ukraine, saying it would take "decades" for a candidate such as Ukraine to join the EU.

"I am saying this in all honesty -- honesty that we owe to the Ukrainians," he said.

"We can have an accelerated process... to accept candidate status for Ukraine but we know that given our standards and the criteria, it would probably take decades for Ukraine to really join the European Union."

The French leader said that Britain too could join the broader political club, despite leaving the European Union.

For countries that have already applied for the bloc’s membership, Macron said he thought they “should go to the end of this road”, while adding that “others like Bosnia-Herzegovina which are much further or others in the Western Balkans”, or those that “have embarked on the joining questions … sometimes from decades ago” may wish to consider joining a wider club instead.

“This new European organization would allow democratic European nations … to find a new space for political co-operation, security, co-operation in energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, the movement of people.”

Macron’s proposal immediately found favor with Scholz, who described it as “a very interesting suggestion”, adding that he was “very pleased” to discuss it with the French leader.

During his speech to the EP, Macron also joined a push for rewriting of EU treaties to speed decision-making in the 27-member bloc.

“We will have to reform our texts, it’s clear,” Macron said, adding that he wanted the issue discussed by the EU council as early as June.

The European Parliament and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi made a similar call last week.

However, a group of 13 member states has warned against “unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards treaty change”.

The 13 nations included Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Poland, and Romania.

In a joint paper on Monday, they wrote this “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”.

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