Tuesday

19th Nov 2019

France keen to pause EU enlargement

  • North Macedonia changed its name last year in the hope of receiving an EU reward (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

France wants to pause EU enlargement pending major reforms, in what some fear could "destabilise" the Western Balkans.

"We would like to see the [European] Commission put on the table a new methodology for accession negotiations that makes them less technocratic, more political, and reversible," a French diplomat told EUobserver.

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The current method, which sees the EU open "chapters" in negotiations without being able to close them again if candidate states backslide, "does not obtain the profound changes that are needed from these countries," the diplomat noted.

Europe also ought to "improve the capacity of the EU to absorb new members" before moving ahead, the diplomat said, in a more nebulous condition.

France spoke out on Monday (14 October), ahead of a meeting of EU affairs ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

The Finnish EU presidency had drafted conclusions that would give the green light to start accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

But "it's not possible to open negations at this stage" because both of them needed to make "extra efforts" on issues such as rule of law and corruption, the French diplomat said.

And the EU might be ready to do it only "some time next year" if things went well, the diplomat added.

The French position goes against Germany and Italy, as well as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, who want to open talks with both North Macedonia and Albania right away.

It also goes against Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain, who want to open talks with North Macedonia, but not with Albania, likewise citing need for further reform.

And the differences were likely to see "lively" talks when ministers met on Tuesday, a second EU diplomat noted.

"A very broad majority in the EU is in favour of opening accession negotiations with both North Macedonia and Albania", a third EU diplomat said.

"Whoever blocks the EU accession process now bears the responsibility for the possible destabilisation of our neighbourhood," the diplomat added.

EU promise

The EU first promised Western Balkan countries that they could one day join at a summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 2003 - not long after the Balkan wars ended.

The past 15 years saw the EU take in Croatia and Slovenia and open accession talks with Montenegro and Serbia.

North Macedonia also changed its name last year, ending a decades-long dispute with Greece, and raising expectation of an EU reward.

The accession process comes amid ongoing tension between ethnic Albanians and Serbs on Kosovo and over nationalist movements in Bosnia and North Macedonia.

It also comes amid Russia's efforts to rebuild its sphere of influence in the region, including via a failed coup in Montenegro in 2016 to try to stop it from joining Nato.

But France, on Monday, remained unmoved by its fellow EU countries' worries on instability.

"We are fully aware of this argument - that it [Western Balkans enlargement] is a race between different countries", the French diplomat told this website.

"We have heard a lot of these geopolitical arguments in the [EU] Council, but we are concerned, first and foremost, by the need for the EU to work better," the French diplomat said.

EU split on Western Balkans accession

Europe's credibility is at risk in the Western Balkans, half its member states have warned - but EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Albania and North Macedonia unlikely to start accession talks soon.

Macron warned on danger of Balkans veto

France's veto on North Macedonia enlargement will endanger the Serbia-Kosovo peace process, a senior EU official has warned, but diplomats do not expect Macron to change his mind.

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