At the end of October, France sent a non-paper to EU Member States, proposing to introduce the principle of “reversibility” in the accession process of the new candidates for EU membership from the Western Balkans. It should be applied by the European Commission (EC) when a state fails to meet certain criteria or suspends its obligations in the accession process, which would result in freezing of the negotiation process until the candidate country fulfills the conditions.
France urges EC to develop and publish new negotiation methodology by January 2020 which should be applied to the candidates for EU membership.
In the non-paper, France proposes that “once negotiations begin, the process not to be based on opening of chapters, but on several successive phases that form coherent blocks of policies and a framework drawn up by the EU that takes into account the specificities of each candidate country”.
The document calls for “the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights to be a prerequisite for the opening of accession talks as well as for the whole negotiation process”.
The current basic structure of the accession process should remain unchanged: during the negotiations, candidate countries must fully adopt EU legislation (35 chapters). Once the negotiations are completed, an accession treaty will be signed, with the country becoming a full member after ratification of the treaty by the parliaments of all member states.
The new moment in the French proposal is the process of membership negotiations to go through seven steps: the rule of law and fundamental rights; education and research;employment and social activities; financial activities; free market;agriculture and fisheries; foreign affairs and “others”. Following the fulfillment of the conditions in this seven stage process, the candidate countries will gain access to individual EU policies and programs. When a candidate country meets the conditions in step one, it will acquire access to Eurojust and Europol and, after step five, the country would be eligible to access EU structural funds.
The ultimate goal “must be full membership” and the whole accession process should be “gradual and more stimulating”. In this context, additional EU financial commitment is envisaged for the Western Balkans pre-accession process, with one option being to redirect part of the EU structural funds to the region.
The French document does not mention Turkey, with which accession talks were cut off three years ago, as well as any other country outside the Western Balkans.
The first discussion of the document proposed by France was expected to beheld on 19 November at a meeting of the EU General Affairs Council.