STRASBOURG – Members of European Parliament from the En Marche! party lead by French President Emmanuel Macron and right-wing populist Identity and Democracy group are usually seen as polar opposite forces in the EU, but on Wednesday night they were united in resisting the launch of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
In this position they remained on the opposite side of everybody else who participated in the debate, including En Marche!‘s partners from the Renew Europe group.
Stephane Sejourne, MEP from the party of the French President, said that he was for the enlargement, but that the EU institutions are completely blocked, which is a problem that needs to be solved first.
“Even though I am pro-European, I think we should wonder about the way to reform the Council and the decision-making methods, before asking the question of how we add two chairs around the table”, Sejourne said.
His colleague Dominique Bilde, member of the Identity and Democracy group and National Rally, lead by Marine Le Pen, agreed that accession negotiations should wait, pointing at the underdeveloped economy of the region, presence of organised crime, but also large Muslim population and Turkish influence.
“Let us therefore have the courage to close the enlargement chapter definitively and billions of euros scandalously dumped as pre-accession aid”, Bilde said.
The same positions were expressed by Anna Bonfrisco from Italian Lega. She said that Chinese and Russian influence, presence of criminal organisations, but also “citizens with double Turkish passports and more than 50% of Muslims in Albania and Bosnia, 28% in North Macedonia and 95% in Kosovo” are the reason why negotiations should not be opened.
On the other hand, Ilhan Kyuchyuk, new EP Rapporteur for North Macedonia and a member of Renew Europe group, which is also made up of En Marche! MEPs, said that the failure to move forward with the membership talks could undermine the EU’s credibility and destabilise the region.
“Moreover, following the setback, the Prime Minister of North Macedonia has called snap elections – a move that could lead to the EU losing one of its biggest allies in the region. Therefore, I urge the EU leaders to consider this decision as soon as possible”, Kyuchyuk was clear.
Every other member of the Renew Europe group that addressed the plenary – Petras Auštrevičius (Lithuania), Valter Flego (Croatia), Michal Šimečka (Slovakia) Urmas Paet (Estonia) and Klemen Grošelj (Slovenia) – expressed his support to opening negotiations and assessed that the failure of the European Council to agree on this issue was a mistake.
European People’s Party representative Andrey Kovatchev started the debate with an assertion that the veto will have political consequences, not only in the two countries but also in the whole region.
“We cannot wait until the Zagreb Summit next year and we should try to repair this mistake as soon as possible”, Kovatchev said.
Vladimir Bilčik, new European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia and Head of the Delegation to EU-Montenegro SPAC, said that the decision shook the foundations of one of Europe’s most successful policies.
“As the standing rapporteur for Serbia, I can tell you that the failure to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania is our bigger political failure to commit credibly to enlargement”, Bilčik said.
Kati Piri, MEP from the Netherlands, one of the countries that also reportedly opposed opening negotiations, took a different position than her national government.
“The toughest negotiations, on its name, led to the historic Prespa Agreement and it took real political courage and real leadership, by both North Macedonia and Greece, to put an end to a 27-year dispute. As sad as it is to say, this is exactly what European leaders did not have – or perhaps, precisely, the French President did not have”, said Piri, member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
European Parliament Rapporteur for Albania Isabel Santos, Rapporteur for Montenegro Tonino Picula and the Head of EP Delegation to EU-Serbia SPAC Tanja Fajon, all members of S&D, also expressed their disappointment over the decision of the European Council.
Opening of accession negotiations was also supported by the representatives of Greens-European Free Alliance, European Untied Left and European Conservatives and Reformists, largest member of which is Poland’s Law and Justice Party.
In the end, European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the national governments to reverse their decision from last week. The text was adopted by 412 votes in favour, 136 against and 30 abstentions.