BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has drafted a new methodology to handle the bloc's enlargement process that would give member states a stronger role in accession talks with EU hopefuls, according to a document seen by RFE/RL.
The proposed plan is to be made public on February 5, more than three months after the EU again halted the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
It comes as a direct response to France -- the main driving force behind the October decision that has sparked disappointment and concern among the six Western Balkan states aspiring to join the EU.
Paris has argued Skopje and Tirana had not made sufficient progress with reforms to cut corruption and strengthen the rule of law, and demanded changes to the EU enlargement process.
In the document, titled Enhancing The Accession Process -- A Credible EU Perspective For The Western Balkans, the European Commission proposes that EU member states "contribute more systematically to the accession process, including via monitoring on the ground through their experts, through direct contributions to the annual reports, and through sectoral expertise."
"Member states will also have the opportunity to review and monitor overall progress more regularly," the draft document says.
It calls for more incentives for well-performing aspirant states, including increased funding "through a performance-based and reform-oriented instrument for preaccession support and closer cooperation with international financial institutions to leverage support."
Backsliding or delays on required reforms could lead to sanctions, such as the suspension of funding or negotiations.
"Already closed chapters could be reopened or reset if issues need to be reassessed," according to the document.
"The scope and intensity of EU funding could be adjusted downward, with the exception of support to civil society," it says, while "benefits of closer integration, e.g. access to EU programs, unilateral concessions for market access could be paused or withdrawn."
Speaking to reporters on February 4, EU spokeswoman Ana Pisonero insisted that the proposals will attempt to make the accession process "more predictable" and "dynamic" without changing the conditions to join the EU.
The proposed plan is to be discussed by EU member states to have it ready for approval at a Brussels summit in March, ahead of the Zagreb summit with Western Balkan leaders in May.
If approved, the new methodology would apply to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and North Macedonia -- but not to Serbia or Montenegro, which have already started accession talks with Brussels.
For these two countries, "the proposed changes could be accommodated within the existing frameworks with the agreement" of Belgrade and Podgorica, according to the draft document.