BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will propose changes to the system for letting new countries into the EU to give existing members more say, in a bid to mollify France which has vetoed expansion of the bloc to six countries in the Balkans.
In October, President Emmanuel Macron halted the process of admitting Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and North Macedonia. The Commission hopes to persuade France to lift its objections before a Zagreb summit with the Balkan states in May.
Macron has become the most outspoken figure among European politicians who say the last big expansion, when Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007, was too hasty, and caution is needed in adding more members from a region beset by corruption and crime.
In November, France submitted a proposal for changes that would give leaders of member states more say over enlargement. Paris says it supports accession for the Balkans in the long term.
The changes the Commission is expected to unveil on Wednesday would give existing members the power to pause the process of admitting new countries, or even force countries to restart entry talks in some policy areas from the beginning. More summits would be held in the Balkan region to give politicians more say over the process.
“Macron wants to be seen as the kingmaker and we can accommodate that, because the EU’s credibility is at stake,” said a senior EU official involved in the reform. “This is political and its personal, so let’s take out the drama.”
But the Commission’s proposals would stop short of meeting some French demands, including that funds for new members should come out of money set aside for poor countries already in the EU. EU officials say such a move would jeopardise support for expansion among existing poor members.
One EU diplomat said it was still not clear whether France would be satisfied by the new proposals: “With Macron, we have a 60% chance of success.” All other EU governments must also agree to the new method.
French officials in Paris told Reuters they had not seen the Commission proposals yet, but had held talks with European Commissioner for enlargement Oliver Varhelyi.
Other countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark, have also been sceptical of expansion, but EU officials say if they can persuade France to lift its objections, those countries would probably not hold out.
“Without Macron, neither the Dutch nor the Danes would alone bloc this; certainly not for North Macedonia, possibly not even for Albania,” a senior EU diplomat said.
Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Peter Graff