EU to overhaul process for admitting new members in bid to lift French veto

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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.

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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.

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A member of protocol carries the folded Union flag past the EU flag after it was removed from outside of the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. As the United Kingdom prepared to bring to an end its 47-year EU membership, the bloc's top officials on Friday pledged to continue playing a prominent role despite the loss of a powerful affiliate. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
A member of protocol carries the folded Union flag after it was removed from outside of the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. As the United Kingdom prepared to bring to an end its 47-year EU membership, the bloc's top officials on Friday pledged to continue playing a prominent role despite the loss of a powerful affiliate. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
The Union flag is lowered and removed from outside of the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. As the United Kingdom prepared to bring to an end its 47-year EU membership, the bloc's top officials on Friday pledged to continue playing a prominent role despite the loss of a powerful affiliate. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Pro-Brexit supporters gather in Parliament Square, London, as the UK prepared to leave the European Union at 11pm UK time. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage celebrates during a rally in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The U.K. officially departs the EU at 11 p.m. local time, midnight in Brussels (2300 GMT, 6 p.m. EST). The move comes 3½ years after the country voted by a margin of 52%-48% to walk away from the club that it had joined in 1973. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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A member of protocol removes the Union flag from the atrium of the Europa building in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. As the United Kingdom prepared to bring to an end its 47-year EU membership, the bloc's top officials on Friday pledged to continue playing a prominent role despite the loss of a powerful affiliate. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)
Großbritannien hat die EU verlassen. Während Hunderte Brexit-Anhänger in London jubelten, wurde in Schottland und Nordirland protestiert.
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A countdown to Brexit timer and the colors of the British Union flag illuminate the exterior of 10 Downing street, the residence of the British Prime Minister, in London, England, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
The Union flag is folded and removed after being lowered from outside of the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. As the United Kingdom prepared to bring to an end its 47-year EU membership, the bloc's top officials on Friday pledged to continue playing a prominent role despite the loss of a powerful affiliate. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Brexit supporters trample on a European Union flag during a rally in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Brexit supporters celebrate during a rally in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain leaves the European Union after 47 years, leaping into an unknown future in historic blow to the bloc. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A projection appears on a cliff in Ramsgate, southern England, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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An image of the clock face of 'Big Ben' is projected onto the exterior of 10 Downing street, the residence of the British Prime Minister, in London as Britain left the European Union, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. With little fuss and not much fanfare, Britain left the European Union on Friday after 47 years of membership, taking a leap into the unknown in a historic blow to the bloc. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
An image of the clock face of 'Big Ben' is projected onto the exterior of 10 Downing street, the residence of the British Prime Minister, in London as Britain left the European Union, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. With little fuss and not much fanfare, Britain left the European Union on Friday after 47 years of membership, taking a leap into the unknown in a historic blow to the bloc. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A Brexit supporter celebrates during a rally in Parliament square in London, England as Britain left the European Union on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Anti-Brexit protesters gather outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Protesters from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit take part in a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, Ireland, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Protesters from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit take part in a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, Ireland, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Brexit supporters gather during a rally in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT Friday, the first nation in the bloc to do so. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Union flag is lowered form its pole outside the European Parliament Friday Jan. 31, 2020, in Strasbourg, eastern France. The U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT Friday, the first nation in the bloc to do so. (AP Photo)
Brexit supporters pose with the Union Jack at the Cenotaph, in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Rain drops are seen on the umbrella of a Brexit supporter during a rally in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Passengers arrive to embark on the last Eurostar train of the day at Gare du Nord Station in Paris to go to St Pancras International train station in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The U.K. is due to leave the EU on Friday, the first nation to leave the bloc since its inception. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
The Union flag is lowered and removed from outside of the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. As the United Kingdom prepared to bring to an end its 47-year EU membership, the bloc's top officials on Friday pledged to continue playing a prominent role despite the loss of a powerful affiliate. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Anti-Brexit protesters gather outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
The five-year old Elisa Saemann, left, and her seven-year old sister Katie hold a placard during a rally by anti-Brexit protesters outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
A Brexit supporter holds a British flag during a rally in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Anti-Brexit protesters gather outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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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 skeptical 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.

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