General Affairs Council to discuss EU enlargement today

For the first time after France’s veto in October, foreign ministers of EU member states will revisit the topic of enlargement to the Western Balkans and accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

The General Affairs Council (GAC) is not to bring forward any conclusions today, but exchange of views among members states and an attempt to break the deadlock after Paris blocked negotiations with North Macedonia on the pretext of reform being needed first in the process of negotiations.

GAC’s discussion will include the latest enlargement principles put forward by France (“non-paper”) regarding a more political, reversible and gradual accession process. France wants the EU Council to make a formal request to the EU Commission to start working on a “new methodology” by January 2020. At this point it’s still uncertain whether this proposal is fully acceptable for the countries that back the enlargement process, which are the majority of countries in the EU, considering that developing a new methodology would take a long time, according to diplomats of EU member states.

So far, the European Commission hasn’t commented on France’s proposals because it’s not authorized to do so, according to the institution’s spokesperson.

Ministers should not be expected to make a formal request to the European Commission to start developing a new methodology, mainly because up until this point, the new structure of the European Commission – President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s team, hasn’t yet taken office. Under the current structure and situation, the Commission is not authorized to initiate new policies and strategies.

Tuesday’s debate could be expected to bring forward certain views of the EU member states, but not a conclusion of this topic.

The October EU Council concluded that the EU should revisit the topic of negotiations with Skopje and Tirana until the May summit in Zagreb. In the meantime, local elections will be held in France and parliamentary elections in North Macedonia. During the same period, the EU should also resolve the issue of the UK’s Brexit.