Wednesday

12th May 2021

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.

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

  • 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.

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.

EU delays Macedonia and Albania talks

Accession talks to start in 2019, not this year as hoped, after France, Denmark and Netherlands force delay despite breakthrough on Macedonia name dispute.

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 enlargement freeze prompts Serbia rethink

The president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, said the Balkan region needs to take care of itself after the EU blocked enlargement talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

News in Brief

  1. Israeli rockets kill 20 people in Gaza retaliation
  2. No more EU expulsions likely over Russia bomb attacks
  3. EU ready to ignore Hungary veto on Hong Kong
  4. Borrell admits EU neglect of Western Balkans
  5. Macron accused of 'cowardice and deceit' in military letter
  6. EU citizens in UK applying for settled status face legal limbo
  7. Netherlands gives €2bn to offshore carbon storage project
  8. Germany will allow Johnson & Johnson vaccine for all ages

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Russia penetrated Merkel's 'inner circle', Khodorkovsky says
  2. First recovery euros could be paid out in July
  3. Commission wants help for Italy after weekend's migrant arrivals
  4. Mercosur trade deal will fuel 'poison pesticides' back into EU
  5. Can new Iran talks avoid mistakes of the original JCPOA?
  6. EU and US urge Israel to defuse Jerusalem violence
  7. Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands
  8. Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us