Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

US to push France on Western Balkans enlargement

  • French president Emmanuel Macron 'shocked' EU institutions (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The US will push France to lift its veto on Western Balkans enlargement to correct a "historic mistake", a senior diplomat has said.

"America wants the Western Balkans to have a European perspective and will do everything in its power to persuade the European Union to change its position before the next EU leaders' meeting in Zagreb in May," the US special envoy to the region, Matthew Palmer, said in Belgrade on Monday (4 November).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"For us, the EU made a historic mistake, sending a bad message to the entire region", he also said, referring to the French decision.

EU leaders are to meet their Western Balkan counterparts in Zagreb in May during Croatia's presidency of the EU Council.

The special summit comes after French president Emmanuel Macron vetoed the opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia in late October.

The EU ought to reform its enlargement protocols and Skopje ought to do more to fight corruption before taking further steps, France said.

But its technical objections came after North Macedonia had bent over backwards to meet EU demands, including changing its name.

And EU institutions felt in the dark on Macron's real motive for the coup, an EU source said.

"We're all still a little shocked. What does France really want?", the source said.

"North Macedonia had done everything, so the timing of such a reflection process [on EU enlargement procedure] was damaging," the source added.

Some member states have called for France to clarify its position at upcoming meetings of EU ambassadors or ministers, with Berlin leading the criticism of Paris.

And the EU source echoed the US special envoy, Palmer, on the importance of changing Macron's mind in time for the Zagreb event.

"If we get to May and we're still where we are today, then you would have to start questioning the EU's credibility on enlargement," the source said.

For his part, Palmer also urged Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić to normalise relations with Kosovo to clear Serbia's EU path.

But Vučić indicated that he would never recognise Kosovo, highlighting the importance of Western engagement for conflict resolution in the region.

"Serbia is ready for a compromise but is not, and will never be ready, for its own humiliation and disrespect of its people in Kosovo and Metohija, and of the state as a whole," Vučić said, using the Serb name for Kosovo.

Palmer, speaking in Pristina earlier this weekend, also called the French "pause" on enlargement "frustrating".

"The EU must do its own homework, and do it very quickly we hope" he said at the time.

"The integration of the Western Balkans into the West must be completed ... This vision is central to US strategic interests as well, and, we would assert, European strategic interests," Palmer said.

If the West ceded ground, then "Russia, China, [and] other actors would happily leap to fill any vacuum of leadership, of vision in this important region," he warned.

"Moscow actively opposes the region's Western integration, sowing turmoil, doubt, and disinformation wherever it can," he said.

"Even as Russia seeks to sow chaos politically, China seeks to purchase loyalty and obedience," the US diplomat added.

"Through loans and investments, China is working to insinuate itself into the infrastructure fabric of the region, targeting strategic industries like telecommunications, energy, mining, steel production, and heavy manufacturing," he said.

France keen to pause EU enlargement

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

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.

Opinion

To play big, Europe needs to get bigger

Enlargement has always propelled the EU's growth. On the contrary, every time the European Union closes its doors to potential new members, it chooses a path of decline, warns Ukraine's deputy PM, Dmytro Kuleba.

Opinion

Cleaning up both the EU and Western Balkans

There has been little substantial analysis, since the Macron veto, of why so much money and effort in the Balkans has failed to result in the political and economic transformation needed to prepare candidates for full membership.

Exclusive

France unveils new model EU enlargement

Western Balkan countries should become EU members via a new, step-by-step process, France has said in a detailed proposal seen by EUobserver.

News in Brief

  1. EU asylum agency to expand operations in Greece
  2. EU set to repatriate citizens from coronavirus-hit Wahun
  3. German Left MEP resigns over former far-right membership
  4. Sassoli defends 'renewed approach' for enlargement
  5. UK approves limited role for Huawei in 5G network
  6. Cases of coronavirus in France and Germany
  7. Report: EU court seeks authority on post-Brexit deal
  8. Slovenian PM resigns, calls snap election

Opinion

EU report recognises Albania's achievements

Albania currently faces a serious crisis, which it would be foolish for all actors in the international community to ignore. Yet we must ask that our partners in Europe read Federica Mogherini's report carefully and recognise accomplishments.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU not prepared for 2015 repeat, warns migration boss
  2. Selmayr did not want top job, says predecessor
  3. EU states wary of MEPs leading future conference
  4. Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states
  5. In Orban's Hungary, the law is not for everyone
  6. 'Brexit is not going to go away,' warns EU's Barnier
  7. Belgian spy services launch internal clear-up
  8. US and UK in war of words over Huwaei

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us