The Irish Times view on the Moldova summit: enlarging the European club

President Macron is shifting French policy more favourably towards EU enlargement to prevent Russia forcing Eastern European states into its geopolitical orbit

Inclusive forums for discussion between European leaders alongside the major alliance and membership organisations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union, play a constructive role during a period of rapid strategic and political change. Forty-seven national leaders gathered last week in Moldova for the second summit of the European Political Community, just a fortnight after many of them met in Iceland at the Council of Europe. Security guarantees and prospective enlargements of Nato and the EU arising from the Ukraine war dominated the Moldova agenda, demonstrating an increasing unity of purpose yet continuing policy disagreements among participants.

The European Political Community (EPC) is the brainchild of French president Emmanuel Macron, reflecting that state’s long-standing search for a Europe-wide forum after the end of the Cold War. President François Mitterrand originated the idea in 1989, but it foundered on his demand that Russia be included, which was unacceptable to post Soviet and Warsaw Pact states. Russia’s European role remains central to any vision of continental unity. It was expelled from the Council of Europe last year after its imperialist invasion of Ukraine and it is the only state, along with Belarus, excluded from the EPC; in both cases due to breaches of their fundamental legal and political norms on sovereignty.

Macron now agrees Ukraine must be given “tangible and credible security guarantees” in a transition towards Nato and EU membership and “for two reasons: Ukraine protects Europe today and she gives Europe security guarantees”. He is shifting French policy more favourably towards EU enlargement to prevent Russia forcing these candidate states into its geopolitical orbit and realises the EU will have to make its decision-making and budgets more effective. It is a significant gesture towards central and eastern European states that France previously marginalised. EU negotiations are under way with Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, while Bosnia-Herzegovina is a candidate for accession talks. Kosovo and Georgia are potential candidates. Moldova and Ukraine are now on that list.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy forcibly argued against any prolonged delay on EU and Nato enlargement at the Moldova summit, saying the only alternatives are “an open war, or creeping Russian annexation”. As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar put it, “if you make countries wait too long, they may turn off the European path”. But Germany and other states caution that Nato membership cannot be extended during a war, while Macron rightly sees the need to keep political channels to Russia’s leaders open if a prolonged war is to be avoided. These decisions are looming, and diplomacy and battles will decide them.