LONDON – The EU should reward North Macedonia and Albania with the start of accession talks at the June Summit, otherwise, it would spread disorder across the Balkans and damage the EU, writes Financial Times.
The article notes that after the Yugoslav wars in 1991, the Balkans might be on the verge of another disorder if the EU does not launch membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
“The decision must be unanimous to take effect. Largely to protect themselves against domestic opponents, several governments, led by France and the Netherlands, are reluctant to commit to what should be the next phase of EU enlargement,” explains FT, noting that France is currently committed on reforming itself rather than focusing its attention towards the region.
While the Balkans is known as the region where ethnic, religious and territorial disputes are common, North Macedonia is praised as an example of successfully settling the long-time name dispute with its neighbour Greece.
However, if this proven commitment to good neighbourly relations is not sufficient for the start of accession talks, FT warns that any postponement could cause harm.
On the other hand, if North Macedonia were to be granted with open EU door, and Albania were to stay in the waiting room, such a decision by the EU could cause certain risks.
“Such a move would pour oil on the flames of pan-Albanian nationalism, tempting politicians and activists in Albania and Kosovo to abandon hopes of EU entry and to embrace the cause of a Greater Albania more explicitly than many already do. In turn, this would contaminate efforts to solve the Serbia-Kosovo dispute and to ease tensions among Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” states the FT.
The article reminds that the Balkans is seen as fertile soil for foreign meddling and that beside the EU, the region caught attention of Russia, Turkey and China, noting that Russian agents were behind an attempted 2016 coup in Montenegro, Turkey finances political Islam in the region, while China is expanding its influence under the Belt and Road Initiative.
Having all this in mind, FT warns that the EU should be careful with its decision at the June Summit as the critics of enlargement are noting the poor quality of democracy and the rule of law in the Balkans, but the EU also needs to have in mind the enthusiasm of the citizens when it comes to reforms.
“The region’s trust in the EU and its people’s enthusiasm for the difficult reforms required to earn membership will fade unless next month’s summit sends a positive signal. Anything less would spread disorder across the Balkans and damage the EU, guilty once more of shooting itself in the foot,” concludes FT.