Thursday

5th Aug 2021

Macron warned on danger of Balkans veto

  • Macedonia's Zoran Zaev and EU's Johannes Hahn met in Brussels on eve of summit (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

France's veto on enlargement will endanger the Serbia-Kosovo peace process, a senior EU official has warned.

It could also prompt the fall of North Macedonia's pro-EU government, Macedonia's prime minister indicated.

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  • Zaev still bears scar from 2017 assault (Photo: emagazin.mk)

But none of that is likely to change French president Emmanuel Macron's mind at the EU summit on Thursday (17 October), diplomats said.

"If all the efforts that North Macedonia has successfully made, if this is not properly rewarded, there is no incentive for Serbia and Kosovo ... to enter into a substantive dialogue about the future coexistence of the two countries, because the only reason to do this is the European perspective," EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said in Brussels on Wednesday.

He spoke after France, one day earlier, vetoed the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia.

It did so citing the need for Skopje to enact a new law on a public prosecutor and for the EU to reform its accession protocols.

It also did so despite the fact North Macedonia had changed its name and its constitution to fall into line with EU and Greek demands.

That process had seen a backlash by Russia-backed nationalist forces in Macedonia.

A nationalist mob stormed the Macedonian parliament when the process began in 2017, with attackers beating up Zoran Zaev, who was, at the time, in opposition, but who later became its prime minister.

For his part, Zaev, who still bears a scar on his forehead and who met Hahn in the EU capital on Wednesday, also warned that the French veto could have dire consequences.

"If this decision is not reversed ... it will most certainly incite regressive forces in the country and strengthen third parties in the region," he said, referring to Russia.

"These third parties will definitely fill the vacuum [left by the EU]," he said.

Hahn and Zaev both looked to the EU summit on Thursday and Friday for a potential French U-turn.

The hope is that EU Council president Donald Tusk, a strong advocate of enlargement, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, whose diplomats also warned of potential Western Balkan instability on Tuesday, will press Macron to change his mind.

But there was no sign of German pressure on France when Merkel met Macron in the French city of Toulouse on Wednesday.

The two leaders spoke about climate change and joint aviation projects instead in their press briefing.

A German communique also mentioned Iran, Libya, the Sahel, Syria, and Ukraine as issues of common concern, but did not mention the Western Balkans at all.

And EU diplomats, who briefed press in Brussels on Wednesday, held out little hope that Thursday's EU summit, which is, in any case, to be dominated by Brexit, would prompt a French turnaround.

The fact there was a "clear desire" by most EU countries to go ahead on North Macedonia had made no impact on France on Tuesday, one senior EU diplomat told EUobserver.

"I doubt very much that we will have an impact that is any different [at the summit]", the diplomat added.

The French position was a "clear disappointment" to its EU partners, but Paris was "happy not to have anything" positive come out of the Western Balkans talks, a second EU diplomat said.

France had in the past talked big on the EU's need to become a geopolitical actor in the face of Russian revanchism and US retrenchment.

Macron also visited Belgrade in June and warned of "rising tension" in the region.

"We are seeing rising tension and sometimes these tensions are fuelled here and there by external powers [Russia] that have an interest in making sure no deal is found [between Kosovo and Serbia]", Macron said at the time.

But the EU diplomat linked his North Macedonia veto to sour grapes over Germany's role in disqualifying Macron's candidate for EU commissioner by the European Parliament last week.

The diplomat referred to the negative "dynamics" between Berlin and Paris in trying to understand what really lay behind the French decision.

"We didn't like the [French] hypocrisy which took place," at the Western Balkans talks on Tuesday, the diplomat said.

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