Thursday

27th Feb 2020

EU keeps North Macedonia and Albania at arm's length

  • North Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev (r) with EU Council president Donald Tusk (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

North Macedonia must wait until October to start EU accession talks despite its historic name deal with Greece, Europe has said.

Albania's prospects look dimmer, while Turkey, another EU aspirant, might face sanctions in an escalating gas dispute with Cyprus.

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  • Albanian prime minister Edi Rama (l) with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

That was the snapshot of EU enlargement policy when European affairs ministers met in Luxembourg on Tuesday (18 June).

EU states took "good note" of European Commission advice to immediately open talks with Skopje, but opted instead to "revert to the issue with a view to reaching a clear and substantive decision as soon as possible and no later than October".

"A minority of member states were not able to support the commission's clear proposal," the EU enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said.

They snubbed North Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev despite his fight against Macedonian nationalists to change his country's name in line with EU and Greek demands.

"We don't need some new radicalism, nationalism and populism in our country," as a result of EU enlargement fatigue, Zaev told the Financial Times the same day.

"There is a promise from Europe that it is a merit-based system and they must make decisions on the arguments of what we deserve and what we fulfilled. After 15 years, we really deserve this and Europe must deliver," he said.

The delay was "unfortunate" the EU commission's Hahn said, but he added he was "extremely confident we'll get a green light in October".

German leader Angela Merkel has also promised Zaev the Bundestag would agree to do it in autumn.

The Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, complained along the same lines.

"We don't need new bad things to happen to realise that every setback in this [EU accession] process fuels nationalism, fuels fantasies, fuels harmful dreams," he told the Financial Times.

The EU ministers also said they would "revert" to Albania talks in autumn.

But Rama's bid is in trouble because the Dutch parliament has ordered the Netherlands to veto the move due to Albania's organised crime and corruption.

Rama called the plan to go ahead with North Macedonia but not Albania "the most crazy and short-sighted notion".

But the EU ministers' conclusions pointed to even wider enlargement-scepticism in Europe.

They "stressed" the "importance of ensuring that the EU can maintain and deepen its own development, including its capacity to integrate new members", in a nod to France, which has said the EU needed internal reform before moving ahead.

The only accession talks currently open are with Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, with Bosnia and Kosovo trailing even further behind.

Facts on the ground

But Serbia is de facto locked out of the EU over non-recognition of Kosovo.

Accession talks with Turkey also de facto ended in 2016 after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan imposed authoritarian rule in the wake of a failed coup.

His ongoing jailing of "journalists, academics, members of political parties, including parliamentarians, human rights defenders, [and] social media users" could "not be condoned" despite his help in stopping EU-bound migrants, the ministers said on Tuesday.

And a new dispute on Turkish gas drilling in Cyprus' economic zone could end in EU sanctions on Ankara, they warned.

Plans for two Turkish ships to drill wells were "illegal" and Turkey should "respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus, and refrain from any such actions", the ministers said.

"The EU will closely monitor developments and stands ready to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus", they added.

They tasked the EU foreign service to "submit options for appropriate measures without delay", after Cyprus threatened to veto the whole enlargement conclusions if Europe did not back it up.

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