Thursday

7th Jul 2022

EU restarts enlargement after French hiccup

  • North Macedonia also preparing to pull down nationalist monuments in bid to join EU (Photo: Funky Tee)

The EU has agreed to open accession talks with two Western Balkan states in a "strategic" move to be rubber-stamped on Wednesday (25 March).

"We've reached a political decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia," Croatia's EU affairs minister Andreja Metelko-Zgombić said on Tuesday.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe as a group

"It's historic news for those two countries and by this we send an important message to all the Western Balkans," she added.

It was also "good news for the EU to be able to ... make a strategic decision at the time of such a big challenge [the coronavirus pandemic]," Metelko-Zgombić said.

"With this, we've put back on track the issue of enlargement," Olivér Várhelyi, Hungary's EU commissioner in charge of the dossier, added.

They spoke to press via videoconference after a virtual EU ministers' meeting.

The video-format meant the decision would have to be formally adopted by "written procedure", an EU legal mechanism, on Wednesday.

"When it's done and the conclusions are adopted, we have a valid decision on opening accession talks," Metelko-Zgombić said, speaking for the Croatian EU presidency.

Tuesday's breakthrough ended six months of uncertainty after France had vetoed North Macedonia talks last year.

The decision will be a fait accompli by the time EU leaders hold a video-summit on Thursday.

But the actual accession negotiations will start when EU states convene intergovernmental conferences (IGCs) with the two hopefuls.

The IGCs will happen some time after June, the pandemic allowing, when the European Commission expects to have finalised an EU negotiating mandate for the process.

In the meantime, the EU also has to agree legal details of a new enlargement methodology, with tougher rules for backsliding candidates.

And Albania will have to fulfil extra anti-corruption reforms before its IGC can go ahead.

Those were the conditions imposed by France on North Macedonia and by the Netherlands on Albania in return for giving the green light.

Last year's French veto caused concern Paris was against enlargement per se because North Macedonia had bent over backwards, including to change its name, to meet EU requirements.

"This was something impossible to imagine last October," Zgombić, the EU commissioner, said on Tuesday's positive decision.

A chorus of other EU and Western Balkan personalities also celebrated on social media.

"Good news in these gloomy times," German EU affairs minister Michael Roth said.

Austria was "happy", its chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, added.

The "EU's decision in this dire time is a symbol of its true strength," North Macedonia's foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov said.

"This is great news for the region," Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi also said.

Enlargement talks normally take between five and 10 years to complete.

Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey are also in an official queue to join the EU. Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have said they want to.

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.

Interview

2004: 'Big Bang' enlargement: A homecoming

As enthusiasm for further enlargement withers, Donald Tusk said it's in the EU's interests not to let China or Turkey replace Europe as the "attractive role model" for millions whose dreams of freedom are similar to his from decades ago.

Opinion

EU cannot ignore history in Balkans enlargement

It is high time Europe makes cultural and historical dialogue part of its enlargement process in the Balkans, following the debacle on Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

Column

'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements

Some modest headway in recognising the unrelenting tide of discrimination and violence facing women worldwide was made at last week's largely self-congratulatory and mostly irrelevant G7 talk-fest. But no one mentioned abortion, just days after the Roe vs Wade decision.

News in Brief

  1. 39 arrested in migrant-smuggling dragnet
  2. France to nationalise nuclear operator amid energy crisis
  3. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  4. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline
  5. Socialist leader urges Czech PM to ratify Istanbul convention
  6. Scottish law chief casts doubt on referendum
  7. British PM faces mounting rebellion
  8. Russian military base near Finnish border emptied

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Legal action looms after MEPs back 'green' nuclear and gas
  2. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  3. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  4. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  5. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  6. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record
  7. MEPs adopt new digital 'rule book', amid surveillance doubts
  8. 'World is watching', as MEPs vote on green finance rules

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us