Macron Calls for ‘Stronger’ Europe but Quashes Ukraine’s Hopes of Joining E.U. Soon

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron used a much-anticipated address to the European Parliament on Monday to sketch out his vision for the future of the European Union, calling for a “stronger and more sovereign” Europe, even as he dashed Ukraine’s hopes of joining the 27-nation E.U. bloc any time soon.

Mr. Macron, whose stature as a leader of Europe has grown following the departure of former Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, reinforced his position on the European stage late last month after winning a second term as president of France. He framed his triumph over his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, a longtime sympathizer with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, as a vote for a stronger Europe.

Mr. Macron took the floor at the European Parliament in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, just hours after Mr. Putin defended his invasion of Ukraine in a speech marking the Soviet victory against Nazi Germany. Referring to the war, Mr. Macron, who has been engaging in a flurry of diplomacy with Mr. Putin to try and end the conflict, said Europe would “do everything” it could to make sure that “Russia can never win.”

While Mr. Putin in Moscow used the Victory Day celebrations to falsely depict his invasion of Ukraine as an extension of the struggle against Nazism in Europe, Mr. Macron said “the European people, the Ukrainian people, are fighting for freedom” today. “We have given two very different images of May 9,” Mr. Macron later told reporters, referring to the Monday holiday.

In his first major address since he was re-elected to the French presidency, Mr. Macron ruled out that Ukraine could join the E.U. in the near future, saying that the membership process would likely take “decades.” Expressing Europe’s commitment to Ukraine, he said Europe would keep sending military and humanitarian aid to the country.

Mr. Macron suggested that instead of joining the E.U., Ukraine and other countries aspiring to join the bloc such as Georgia and Moldova could instead become members of a new “European political community” that would bring together countries that shared the E.U.’s liberal values, in a sort of outer circle of European states. He said Britain, which left the E.U. in 2016, could also potentially join the new community.

“The European Union, given its level of integration and ambition, cannot be the only way to structure the European continent in the short term,” Mr. Macron said.

But Mr. Macron did not spell out what form this organization would take and it was unclear how viable it would be, given the already existing large phalanx of E.U. institutions.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany welcomed the proposal at a joint news conference in Berlin with the French president on Monday evening. But he stressed that it should not impact the prospects of those countries already in the process of joining the bloc.

Joining the bloc is a painstaking and arduous process. To join, a country needs its candidacy to be unanimously approved by all E.U. member states, which now number 27. It must also make its political system, judiciary and economy compatible with the bloc by adopting the E.U. system of common law, as well as more than 80,000 pages of rules and regulations on everything from environmental standards to food hygiene rules.

Mr. Macron also surprised his audience in Strasbourg by saying that the bloc’s guiding treaties needed updating as large swaths of E.U. decision-making require unanimous approval from the E.U.’s 27 member states, an unwieldy requirement that he said was slowing down progress. For example, the E.U. proposal to ban Russian oil imports, which must be approved by all of the bloc’s member countries, has faced resistance from Hungary.

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