Following the French decision to block EU accession talks with Albania and N. Macedonia, France proposes to change the policy of enlargement.

In a non-paper shared with EU member states, Emmanuel Macron’s government proposes a shift from a chapter-by-chapter accession process with a seven-stage process.

The process would entail convergence with EU norms and standards and would not be unidirectional. If a candidate country’s government backslides, the EU can reverse the process to the previous stage.

The idea of “stages” replacing “chapters” would mean that reforms would be cohesive and thematically linked rather than scattered in different policy directions.

The stick and carrot approach remains, as the French proposal envisages widening the scope of opportunities for candidate states to participate in sectoral EU policies as they progress, complete with targeted financial instruments. This echoes the principle the “more for more” underpinning Eastern Partnership Association Agreements.

Today, both the Commission and EU member states consent for a country to begin accession negotiations. First, the Commission judges the country is aligned with the acquis, then an accession treaty is drawn and, finally, the Council must approve it.

The French proposal is said to be the product of consultation with Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. The question now is whether this is a proposal to end enlargement or a sincere attempt to make the process of accession more effective in achieving convergence.

In any event, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov hailed the French proposal. Russia also hailed Macron’s dismissal of NATO as “brain dead” and his call for “strategic dialogue” with Russia during an interview with The Economist suggests a clear departure from a Euro-Atlantic trajectory.

North Macedonia has just joined NATO, a step that since the collapse of the Berlin Wall has been considered the first step towards EU membership. Last week President Stevo Pendarovski said his country does not oppose a more thorough methodology of engagement in the process of enlargement. The priority appears of maintaining the prospect of membership open.

However, it is feared, an EU departure from the Balkans could pave the way for the regions’ deeper engagement with Turkey, Russia, and China.

The incoming President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has promised to be more “geopolitical” in her approach to EU policy, while Macron’s recent reflections bear direct resemblance to a speech by Germany’s defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.