Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a war which he called “special operation” against Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The war has increased the vulnerability of security and energy in Europe. These vulnerabilities lead to the emergence of new searches in Europe. In this context, on May 9, 2022; on the Europe Day, French President Emmanuel Macron, who made a statement in the European Parliament, proposed the creation of a different European political community beyond the European Union (EU), that will include the non-EU states. Macron stated that the solution lies in a newly formed organization while discussing Ukraine’s possible EU membership because, in his words; “Even if Ukraine is now granted EU candidate state status, it will take years for them to become a real EU member.” It is possible to evaluate Macron’s statement within the framework of both the reality of war and the internal dynamics of France.
Europe, which is already experiencing difficulties because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has high-level tensions and increasing concerns due to the Russia-Ukraine War. Europe is experiencing the most important security concerns after the Cold War and feels the threat of Russia. After the war started due to the threat perception in question, the West began to impose sanctions on individuals and institutions in many areas, from banking to food and from technology to transportation. Even though frozen accounts or stopped natural gas pipeline projects are put into practice in order to block Russia’s path, the developments affect the whole world due to inflation and increased living expenses. Especially because of the increasing oil and natural gas prices, it is not only Russia that is affected by the sanctions; Western states are also adversely affected. According to 2020 data, Russia is the second largest oil exporter and the largest natural gas exporter. Therefore, sanctions are felt deeply especially in Europe and cause some contradictions. For example, Hungary, an EU member, opposes the EU’s sanctions on Russian oil. Similarly, Bulgaria requested exceptions for the Balkan countries. Serbia, which is an EU candidate country, also opposes imposing sanctions on Russia. In other words, the EU cannot take a monolithic stance. In this context, it can be deduced that there is a distrust between countries and existing institutions.
In the context of EU-Ukraine relations, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced that the union managers will give their opinions on Ukraine’s membership in June 2022. However, Ukraine’s EU membership process is not of a nature that will result in the short and medium term. For example, Albania applied for membership in 2009, received the status of a candidate country in 2014 and still has not become a member. On the other hand, Serbia is in the same situation. While this is the case, in the current conjuncture, Ukraine’s EU membership application is a symbolic step rather than a concrete move. This can be characterized as a challenge as part of the stance taken against Russia.
Explaining that he will work with interested governments to implement this structure, Macron stated that he believes the said initiative is important for the stability of Europe. In addition, emphasizing that the EU should not be the only organization in Europe due to its high level of integration and goals, Macron suggested the establishment of a parallel organization instead of lowering the standards of the EU for faster accession.
On the other hand, the threats posed by the war to Europe require urgent solutions. The fact that EU membership is long and difficult, pushes some European countries to consider alternatives. Macron’s proposal for a different European community through the example of Ukraine can be read in this outlook. French leaders stated that many countries such as Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia also want to become members. While expressing that EU membership is not the only way to ensure stability in Europe, Macron said that the proposed structure will offer European nations a new area for cooperation. In this context, EU candidate countries or potential candidate countries seem to be Macron’s main target audience. Since the long wait in the candidate hall of the said countries creates boredom, they may desire to be accepted in one way or another, and they may welcome the idea to be a part of an important European leader’s suggestion like Macron’s.
Considering that the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen received over 40% of the votes in the French presidential elections held on April 24, 2022, and Macron actually won a bittersweet victory, it can be argued that the statements in question are a part of the image renewal initiative for Macron. In addition to being one of the pioneering countries in the establishment of the EU, also in France, there are a considerable amount of anti-European views. This is due to the fact that the EU is described as a disappointment and that those who support the Charles de Gaulle school, advocate more nationalistic ideas. Former President of France, De Gaulle, who is the architect of France’s 5th Republic Period, used the rhetoric of the leadership of France while expressing that Europe should be a unique superpower separate from the USA and the Soviet Union with the Fouchet Plan. In other words, Macron, inspired by his predecessors, wishes to renew France’s long-standing leadership image. In fact, the EU perception of the French society has been shaped within the framework of Germany-France relations and the plans proposed by the French authorities for the EU. In short, Macron plays to the public opinion with his proposal to establish a new European organization and calculates that he will meet the social expectations.
In fact, Macron wanted to thrust to the forefront his own leadership and the French idea when he said “brain dead” for the North Atlantic Alliance Organization (NATO) in the past and in connection with this, he expressed that Europe should have its own defense organization. The present discussion reflects the same approach. On the other hand, the departure of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was seen as the stabilizing power of Europe, also created a leadership vacuum in Continental Europe. In this context, it can be said that Macron aims to fill the leadership “gap” with his European plan.
But France’s proposal is neither unique nor new. In 2018, Macron proposed a wider “single-centered interlocking rings” model and talked about a “new” system that represents countries with different integration levels. On the other hand, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced his own “new” bloc. This bloc, which includes many Eastern European countries as well as Ukraine, is an alternative structure to the EU in the form of “European Commonwealth of Nations”. Johnson’s proposal, with the motto of “countries with a stance that differs from the EU”, came after Macron’s proposal was openly rejected, and symbolized the escalation of the competition for leadership.
Johnson’s idea seems to have a clearer goal than Macron’s. First of all, Macron is one of the founding members of the EU, and the countries that are the target of this proposal will expect France to put the EU first. For this reason, countries that may favor Macron’s proposal may not welcome being in the background. On the other hand, the United Kingdom, as the only country to leave the EU, can be seen closer to its potential to be the “pioneer” of such a structure. In this context, Macron should act by taking into account the factor of the United Kingdom in order to take the lead in his idea. Macron should come up with more comprehensive explanations in order to show that establishing a European community is serious and planned; it should be stated that this community will not be in the background and that will provide real benefits to the participants.
As a result, France is reviving the idea of “France, the leader of Europe”, which became evident after the Second World War as a result of the developments both in its internal dynamics and in the region. France’s proposal for a different European community can be considered as a solution attempt to both the criticisms of the EU and to the new European order. Macron, in order not to lose the actors he thinks are not suitable in terms of EU membership criteria; wants to offer them an alternative organization and use this situation for the French leadership. To achieve this goal, Macron must do much more than speak in general terms, he must present a real plan to the audiences he is addressing. On the other hand, countries should be convinced that the newly created community will be a benefit and they will not be left behind.
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