President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Thursday that a gathering of European leaders in Moldova showed Europe’s unity in supporting Ukraine and in standing up to Russian aggression, but he reiterated France’s position that full-fledged NATO membership for Ukraine was still premature.
Speaking at a news conference in Bulboaca, Moldova, which is only about 15 miles from the Ukrainian border, Mr. Macron said that the summit meeting was a “strong symbol” of how “we will not abandon any member of the European family.”
“It’s a message of unity and of clear, unanimous support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, to lead its counteroffensive, to obtain security guarantees and to build a lasting peace,” Mr. Macron said at the summit, where heads of state and government from 47 countries and top European Union officials had convened.
But he repeated his stance from a day earlier, during a trip to Slovakia, that Western allies could provide Ukraine with “tangible” security guarantees without going as far as full NATO membership, “which is not immediately accessible.”
Mr. Macron also met with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on the sidelines of the summit for a one-on-one conversation.
The gathering in Moldova was the second meeting of the European Political Community, or E.P.C. — a group of over 40 nations that includes European Union members but also countries that are not part of the bloc, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey and Britain.
The idea for the group came from Mr. Macron in the months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of last year. He wanted a somewhat informal but highly symbolic gathering of a wide circle of leaders, bringing countries that are not part of the European Union closer to it, to discuss important European issues like energy policy or security.
On Thursday, Mr. Macron said the summit had shown the “pertinence of this idea and the strength of this format.”
“I see many colleagues who sometimes were doubtful of that and who are now convinced of it,” he added.
Mr. Macron has insisted that the group is a way to keep Europe united and a practical solution to include non-E.U. countries in important debates about the continent’s future — not a substitute for E.U. expansion into Eastern Europe, nor an indefinite waiting room for E.U. membership candidates.
Ukraine and Moldova both became official E.U. candidates last year, with Mr. Macron’s support, although the process is long and uncertain. In keeping with the longtime French idea of a “multispeed Europe,” Mr. Macron also said that a one-size-fits-all approach to expansion had become impractical and that it was unwise to throw the bloc’s doors wide open without significantly reforming its internal rules.
But he has signaled a shift in France’s reluctance to expansion, arguing from Slovakia on Wednesday that “the question is not whether we should expand, nor when we should do it. To me, it should be as quickly as possible — but how to do it.”
“We already function too slowly with 27 members,” he added from Moldova on Thursday. “No one can credibly say that we will function better with eight more.”