Ukraine EU bid could take 'decades', warns Macron
France's President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said it would take "decades" for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.
The idea immediately found favour with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who described it as a "very interesting suggestion" that he was "very pleased" to discuss with the French leader.
Ukraine, which is battling Russia's invasion, is seeking EU membership, and the European Commission has said it will respond to the request next month - a key step before the issue is taken up by member states.
But Macron buried any hopes of swift membership for Ukraine, suggesting rather that it may be more efficient to consider building a wider club beyond the EU.
"I am saying this in all honesty - honesty that we owe to the Ukrainians," Macron said.
"We can have an accelerated process... to accept candidate status for Ukraine but we know that given our standards and the criteria, it would probably take decades for Ukraine to really join the European Union."
But, noting the urgency of giving Ukraine and other EU hopefuls like Moldova and Georgia a place in the heart of Europe, he called for the creation of a "European political community".
Britain too could join this club, he said in Berlin during a visit for talks with Scholz.
"The United Kingdom decided to leave our European Union but it can have a place in this political community," he said.
For countries that have already embarked on the membership route and which are close to joining, Macron said he thought they "should go to the end of this road".
But he said "others like Bosnia-Herzegovina which are much further or others in the Western Balkans", or those that "have embarked on the joining questions... sometimes from decades ago" may wish to consider joining a wider club instead.
Macron said the bloc, "given its level of integration and ambition", could not be Europe's only organising body.
"It is our historic obligation... to create what I would describe before you today as a European political community," he said.
"This new European organisation would allow democratic European nations... to find a new space for political cooperation, security, cooperation in energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, the movement of people."
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, in part to thwart Kyiv's tilt towards integration with the EU and NATO, and Georgia and Moldova are also partly occupied by Moscow's troops.