Sunday

25th Aug 2019

France open to further EU enlargement

France has indicated that it is ready to support further enlargement of the European Union, with a series of countries from the Western Balkans lining up to the join the 27-nation bloc.

French Europe minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet told the Financial Times newspaper that the French government had changed its attitude to enlargement and to Europe more generally since French voters rejected the EU constitution in mid 2005.

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"We used to believe that a federal Europe was necessary for a more deeply integrated union and that enlargement would counter this and prevent Europe from working effectively. We have now overcome this contradiction," the minister said.

"The thing that has most struck me since I took up this job seven months ago is precisely the capacity of an EU of 27 members, and more one day, to take decisions."

Mr Jouyet also indicated that Paris would back the integration of the Balkans countries into the EU.

He told the FT that "in France we have not done enough to make the case for enlargement".

The words are likely to be seen as a strongly positive signal to Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, which have been promised eventual EU membership.

In recent years, the western Balkans region has been feeling the effect of a downturn in enthusiasm for enlargement among some governments after the 2004 big bang enlargement took on 10 new countries.

Mr Jouyet's words are especially important as France will take over the EU presidency in the second half of 2008.

But France's new fondness for enlargement does not extend to Turkey. President Nicolas Sarkozy remains firmly opposed to Turkish membership of the EU, having previously remarked that the country does not belong in Europe.

The statements by the Europe minister are in line with a recent proposal to reform the French constitution.

Under the draft bill, submitted last month, French approval of new EU member states could be done either by popular vote or by the French "Congress" - comprising the country's national assembly and the senate.

The new bill has dropped the proposal of the previous government under Jacques Chirac obliging a referendum on all new EU membership bids but maintains the right of the president to decide the method of ratification - by congress or by referendum.

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.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

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