Following his refusal to agree to a Commission proposal on formally opening accession talks between the European Union and Albania and North Macedonia, respectively, the French President Emmanuel Macron’s Élysée Palace on 17 November published a so-called ‘non-paper’ on ‘Reforming the European Union accession process’.
Mr. Macron’s proposal foresees replacing the current accession process, which divides the entirety of the EU’s political, social, legislative and regulatory frameworks into 35 chapters which the candidate country has to transpose into national legislation. Under current processes, once the candidate country is deemed to have fulfilled all necessary obligations, an EU accession treaty will have to be approved by the Council of the EU and ratified by each EU member state.
Under the French proposal this approach would be replaced with a new, seven-stage process which “should be based on four guiding principles: gradual accession; stringent conditions; tangible benefits; and reversibility.” Under such, the new approach would be organised around policy blocs with stringent conditions to effectively converge candidate countries towards European norms and standards. Importantly, the paper proposes a reversibility component, which would allow the EU to abandon membership talks if a candidate country’s government backslides away from the bloc’s standards.
The Élysée proposal continues to add that, “once negotiations are opened, the integration process would no longer be based on a simultaneous opening of a large number of thematic chapters, but on several successive stages, which would form coherent policy blocks and a scheme pre-established by the EU.” Progress towards closing each respective negotiation stage would, in return, “open up the possibility to participate in EU programmes, to be involved in certain sectoral policies and, where appropriate, to benefit from certain targeted financing.”
With the final objective being full and complete accession to the EU, the candidate country would have to effectively respect the precise criteria of each of the seven stages, including the full implementation of the framework of the given policy bloc, with the rule of law and fundamental rights remaining an integral requirement throughout the entirety of the access process.