Thursday

23rd May 2019

Macedonia to join next wave of EU enlargement

  • Donald Tusk: 'This is a good week for ... the Western Balkans (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Two million people in Macedonia will be hoping to become EU citizens in 2025 after leaders gave a nod to start talks next year.

The same holds true for three million Albanian people, on top of earlier hopes given to the almost eight million people in Serbia and Montenegro, despite EU divisions on immigration and populist threats.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Zoran Zaev (r): 'The great news has been confirmed' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"The European Council endorses the conclusions on enlargement and stabilisation and association process adopted by the Council on 26 June 2018," the 28 EU leaders plan to say in their summit conclusions, seen by EUobserver, on Thursday (28 June).

The phrase refers to a deal, earlier this week, by EU ministers to "set out the path towards opening accession talks with Macedonia and with Albania in June 2019".

But Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev, standing next to European Council leader Donald Tusk, in Brussels as the summit got under way, turned the anodyne words into a public pledge to bring his people into the EU by 2025.

"The great news has been confirmed - the Republic of Macedonia has received a date to start negotiations … the leaders of the EU have said yes," Zaev said.

"Negotiations on average last seven years … if Macedonia followed this timeline it would result in membership in 2025," he added.

"The next [EU] enlargement … will include Macedonia", he said. "Once and for all we will bring our country into the family of stable and developing countries [the EU]," Zaev said.

He was slightly premature in saying the news had been "confirmed", with the draft conclusions still to be adopted later the same evening.

But Tusk also said the decision was due to come without much further ado.

"In just a few hours, I expect the EU will endorse this," Tusk said. "This is a good week for your country and for the Western Balkans," he said.

EU membership would mean economic prosperity, democracy, and rule of law "once and for all" in an "irreversible process", Zaev added.

There is no guarantee the talks will yield a happy ending by 2025, but the Macedonian leader pledged to "complete our homework [reforms] and to rapidly enter the gates of the EU".

The green light for Albania and Macedonia comes amid a wider push to speed up Western Balkans enlargement.

The European Commission said in a strategy paper in January that Serbia and Montenegro should also be ready to join by 2025.

Populist threat

That good news for the Balkans comes amid bad news for the EU on migration - the main topic of Thursday's summit.

Leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel, have warned that unless the EU stops people crossing the bloc's external borders en masse and then fanning out to seek asylum wherever they want, then populist politicians could seize upon public fears to tear the union asunder.

Tusk nodded to those concerns with Zaev in saying "if you think that our proposals are too tough on migration … if they fail, then you might see some really tough proposals from tough guys [far-right firebrands]," he said.

He thanked Zaev for his "excellent cooperation" in keeping migrants out of the EU.

He also promoted the idea of "disembarkation platforms" - migrant holding pens, to be created, if EU leaders and their foreign partners agreed, in places such as Albania or north Africa.

Tusk and Zaev's optimism masked EU reluctance to move too quickly on enlargement in the difficult political context, however.

Skopje and Tirana had hoped to start the accession talks already this year.

They had also hoped that leaders would adopt a formal decision to open the accession talks, instead of the more fuzzy and informal language on "setting out a path" to starting those negotiations.

Denmark, France, and the Netherlands said no to all that at Tuesday's meeting of EU ministers in case it fed votes to populist parties in next year's European Parliament elections.

By contrast, when Croatia received its promise to start talks, back in 2005, the council said it "decides to open" accession talks on such and such a date, pending certain conditions.

The fuzzy wording means the formal decision to open talks will come in June next year, when leaders meet again.

That decision will fall after the EU elections and if a week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes, then a year is an eternity and the decision might well never come if the election result turns out to be a populist nightmare.

'Beautiful' deal

Macedonia's breakthrough comes after it clinched a solution to its 23-year old name dispute with Greece at a ceremony on the shores of a Greek lake, which Zaev called "one of the most beautiful regions in Europe".

It is to be called North Macedonia instead of Macedonia in order not to imply any territorial claim to the Greek region of Macedonia, under an accord signed earlier this month.

"The European Council strongly welcomes and supports the agreement reached between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece on the name issue. This … sets a strong example for others in the region to strengthen good neighbourly relations," the EU leaders also plan to say on Thursday.

But the solution must still be ratified by MPs and by referendums in both countries later this year, adding more potential hurdles to Zaev's 2025 target, amid street protests whipped up by nationalist parties in both Skopje and Athens that hope to tear up the accord.

EU delays Macedonia and Albania talks

Accession talks to start in 2019, not this year as hoped, after France, Denmark and Netherlands force delay despite breakthrough on Macedonia name dispute.

Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Authorities in Budapest confirmed the former prime minister of Macedonia, fleeing a jail sentence in his own country, has filed for asylum. Despite Hungary's strict asylum laws, the pro-Kremlin politician was not turned away.

News in Brief

  1. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  2. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  3. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  4. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  5. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  6. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  7. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  8. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll

Opinion

EU should brace for a more authoritarian Erdogan

The new blend of religious nationalism will be more anti-West and anti-EU, as Brussels has anything but leverage on Turkey. The first signs of this strong rhetoric are already visible.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us