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26th Sep 2020

EU fails to deliver on Albania and North Macedonia

  • EU summit leaders held talks into the early morning hours - without result (Photo: European Council)

Albania and North Macedonia had their hopes dashed after Denmark, France and the Netherlands scuppered any agreement on opening accession talks.

The deadlock at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (17 October) highlights divisions among EU states on advancing the two Balkan states onto the next phase of one day joining the European Union.

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Lithuania's president Gitanas Nauseda described it as a disappointment, saying "we failed to reach consensus because three states refused to invite both countries to start negotiations."

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said the moment was not right, telling reporters that he was more worried about Albania than North Macedonia.

"There were long talks about the system of accession. We need to change that," he said, noting there is a need to put rule of law and separation of powers much earlier in the accession process.

Rutte's comments on procedure echoed French president Emmanuel Macron, who also wants the system overhauled.

The French-led blockade comes amid warnings the veto would endanger the Serbia-Kosovo peace process, doom North Macedonia's pro-EU government and give further credence to Russian influence.

North Macedonia prime minister Zoran Zaev on the eve of the summit had said a negative decision would "most certainly incite regressive forces in the country and will strengthen the interest of third parties in the region."

The Balkan state had changed its name following a decades long dispute with Greece, provoking backlash from Russian-backed nationalist forces.

Similar warnings were issued by EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, who had said there would be "no incentive for Serbia and Kosovo" to resolve their outstanding differences should the EU fail to deliver on opening North Macedonia accession talks.

The president of the European Parliament David Sassoli had also spoken out in support of Albania and North Macedonia.

"The European Commission is in favour of this and we would find it hard to explain to the people of those countries why we are delaying it," he said.

But with no consensus reached, EU leaders are unlikely to discuss the issue again on Friday as they gather for the second EU summit day, preferring instead to delve into other big topics like climate change and the EU budget.

Instead, any decision is now set to take place in the lead up to the Western Balkan summits in Zagreb next May.

North Macedonia was granted candidate status in 2005 followed by Albania in 2014.

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