EU Council fails to support Skopje and Tirana, France seen as the main opponent

Emmanuel Macron; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – European Council has not reached the decision on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania in a marathon session between Thursday and Friday. No formal conclusions from the meeting have been released.

According to multiple media sources, France was the main opponent of the decision. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte supported a potential compromise that would have allowed talks to begin with North Macedonia while forcing Albania to wait, but in the end leaders also could not agree on separating the bids by the two countries, Politico writes.

After leaving the meeting, Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne said that the talks could continue on Friday but there has since been no confirmation that they have resumed.

European Commission supported opening negotiations with both countries for the second time this year. The decision is interpreted as particularly disappointing for North Macedonia, which reached an agreement on ending almost three-decade long dispute over the name in 2018 and concluded its implementation this year. It was one of the main conditions for opening of accession negotiations.

Council of the EU failed to reach the conclusion on the issue earlier this week. The decisions was postponed in June 2018 and 2019 as well.

Reasons for French opposition: Procedural or substantial?

According to Politico, France has cited procedural reasons for blocking the two countries, arguing that the EU’s entire accession system is in need of an overhaul.

Critics ask why Macron didn’t raise this question one year ago, but only at what seems to be a pretext to deny the opening of accession talks with Skopje and Tirana.

However, Paris has also made clear its view that North Macedonia and Albania are not ready to begin the EU membership process, this outlet reports.

Euractiv adds that this decision is motivated by internal policy reasons – Macron does not want to open the narratives of more Eastern European migrants, as well as accept new members with the problems of the rule of law.

Dimitrov: EU must at least be straightforward with the region

Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov, who embarked on several diplomatic travels this year advocating for the opening of accession negotiations with his country, tweeted that the people of the region ought to know whether the European perspective still exists.

Nikola Dimitrov; Photo: European Union

“The least that the European Union owes the region is to be straightforward with us. If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans, if the promise of Thessaloniki 2003 does not stand, the citizens deserve to know”, tweeted Dimitrov.

He expressed gratitude to all leaders that fought hard for the EU to open accession talks with North Macedonia. According to him, this anchored the historic Prespa Agreement, encouraged domestic reforms and underpinned the European narrative in North Macedonia.

“While we wait for a renewed consensus, we must continue to defend true European values at home”, concluded Dimitrov.

Hahn: A matter of extreme disappointment

European Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn assessed that the failure of EU leaders to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania is a matter of “extreme disappointment”.

Johannes Hahn at the presentation of 2019 Enlargement Package; Photo: European Union

“As I said already in Luxembourg: This is not a moment of glory for the EU. To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU”, Hahn wrote on Twitter.

He said that it is the responsibility of the EU now to stand with the countries whose citizens are rightly disappointed to the bone and that he will continue to do everything in my power to support them.

Experts: EU’s credibility undermined

Several experts for the region have already expressed their dismay with the lack of a positive decision.

“How can we argue for the EU in the Western Balkans? How can we say that genuine effort will be rewarded? The EU and Macron in particular betrayed what the Union stands for. Like the false promises of the ‘hour of Europe’ dawning in 1991, this failure will cause lasting damage”, tweeted Florian Bieber, BiEPAG coordinator and Professor at the University of Graz.

LSE Professor James Ker-Lindsay also assessed that the credibility of the European Union in the Western Balkans has been “completely undermined” by this decision.