France’s insistence against the overwhelming majority of European Union member states brought about on Friday the European Council not reaching a decision to open membership talks with Albania and Northern Macedonia.
During a news conference following the end of the council’s meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron said he recognized the progress made by both countries, but that there were still some things to be resolved.
He championed his idea of reforming the membership talks and enlargement process, which he described as a bureaucratic process.
“If we don’t work properly with 27 members, how can it be better with 28,29 or 30,” Macron said, referring to the EU’s own internal problems, which he said had “a new vision.”
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret that there was no unanimity in opening talks with Albania and Northern Macedonia, while stressing that “Germany believes that the objectives set by the European Commission have been achieved.”
She underlined the fact that in the case of the two Balkan countries it is not about EU accession, but about launching a process of negotiations.
The new President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, said the decision was greatly disappointing.
“Both countries and their citizens have made great efforts to meet the conditions set. When one is required to make further efforts, it is our duty to keep the given word . It will be difficult to explain to the people of these two countries why we are delaying the next step, at a time when progress has been made,” he said.
As for Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, not opening talks with Tirana and Skopje “is a historic mistake”.
He said that Italy would propose for the issue to be re-addressed to the General Affairs Council next month, stressing that “if Europe creates such issues in the Western Balkans, not only it does not favor itself, but runs the risk of favoring other countries which aim to expand their sphere of influence.”
The problem in the case of Albania and North Macedonia is not only related to the lack of support, but also to the uncertainty of the future of the process itself. Both French President Macron and Chancellor Merkel have said they will address the issue ahead of the Western Balkans summit in Zagreb next spring, but without specifying what will be done pending the French idea of revising the process.
For his part, Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said after the meeting that “the leaders of European Union member states failed to uphold their commitment to open membership talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania at the European Council summit,” Hahn wrote, referring to an “extreme disappointment.”
According to him, “EU member states should clarify how serious their commitment is to the Western Balkans’ EU integration is.”
Hahn reiterated his statements a few days ago after the meeting of the member states’ foreign ministers, noting that “this is not a moment of glory for the EU. Refusing to acknowledge the progress made will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilizing the Western Balkans with full impact on the EU.”