Sunday

17th Feb 2019

EU delays Macedonia and Albania talks

  • Greek foreign minister Kotzias, Bulgarian foreign minister Zaharieva, and enlargement commissioner Hahn during Tuesday's talks (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU governments agreed on Tuesday (26 June) to delay a decision to start accession talks with Macedonia and Albania until next year, if the two Balkan countries carried out more reforms.

EU affairs ministers were entangled in a bitter debate over opening negotiations as France and the Netherlands, joined by Denmark, continued to oppose giving the green light to the two countries and sought further steps in tackling corruption and organised crime.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The deadlock came after Macedonia and Greece resolved a decades-old dispute over the former's name , which had blocked Skopje's EU membership process.

It also raises questions about the EU's efforts to re-engage with the region where the influence of Russia and Turkey has grown over the years.

After 10 hours of debate on Tuesday, EU ministers agreed to "set out the path towards accession negotiations in June 2019", for Macedonia and Albania, according to the formal conclusions.

"It was a very difficult birth," Germany's EU state minister Michael Roth said, after having earlier urged France and the Netherlands to support starting talks.

EU countries supporting entering into talks argued that, after Macedonia and Greece reached an agreement on the name issue, the bloc needed to show support.

"It was a difficult meeting," Hungary's EU minister Szabolcs Takacs said, warning that not agreeing to a date would have sent a grave message to the region.

He said that denying a positive message after the name deal would have told Balkan countries that the EU did not reward taking political risks to reach difficult agreements.

"We could not leave without agreeing to the conclusions," he added.

France's president Emmanuel Macron has argued that the EU must reform itself first before accepting new members, but he is also keen to avoid the issue of enlargement playing a role in next year's European elections.

The Dutch foreign minister insisted more progress was needed on tackling corruption and organised crime and upholding the rule of law.

"We want to make a new judgment based on a [European] Commission report in 2019," Stef Blok told reporters after the meeting.

He added that both countries had to show "a track record both in improving the rule of law and fighting organised crime".

"We'll look carefully at next year commission report [on enlargement progress] to judge whether we see this progress," he said.

Macedonia's deputy prime minister for the EU, Bujar Osmani welcomed the announcement on Twitter despite the delay.

"We never said it would be easy, never said it would be promptly, but we are coming home with a date! June is just a year away, and we are motivated to get prepared for the opening of the negotiations," he said.

During the discussions, the Greek minister, Nikolaos Kotzias, made an emotional plea.

According to an EU source, he argued that the EU needed to move forward with accession to prevent the Balkans from falling back on progress already achieved.

"It's a bloody fight," another EU source said, describing the mood at the fraught meeting.

Bulgaria's foreign minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, whose country ends its EU presidency this month, said it was not easy to reach an agreement.

"But it is a good decision because it gives a clear timeframe to the two countries. And it is better than to have nothing," she said on the 2019 dateline.

Nato yes

While the EU seemed to be reluctant to give a positive sign to the Balkans, Nato will likely open its doors to Macedonia anyway.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was likely to approve membership talks with Skopje at a summit in July.

Albania is already a member of Nato.

"I expect and I hope that the heads of state and government can agree to start accession talks," Stoltenberg said in Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, the Macedonian president, Gjorge Ivanov, refused to sign off the agreement to change the country's name to North Macedonia.

Ivanov's office argued in a statement that the agreement was unconstitutional.

Macedonian lawmakers voted 69-0 to ratify the agreement.

The opposition nationalist, centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party boycotted the vote. Ivanov is an ally of the party.

If parliament approves the name change in another session again, Ivanov cannot block the decision for the second time.

Greece and Macedonia will both hold a referendum on the name issue in autumn.

Macedonia's pro-EU prime minister Zoran Zaev said he would resign if the agreement failed to get support in the referendum.

"Macedonia has no plan B," he told broadcaster 1TV.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Opinion

Italy will keep blinking in 2019

Italy's 'marriage of convenience' coalition government likes picking battles with Brussels. But with the economy now in recession, and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini needing to keep the business lobby on board, expect Rome to blink first.

Opinion

The test for Sweden's new government

While the formation of a new government ends Sweden's fourth-month paralysis, it doesn't resolve the challenge from radical-right populists in Sweden. A key question remains: will treating populists like pariahs undercut the appeal of their, often anti-rights, politics?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us