Hahn: I hope the mistake of not opening talks with North Macedonia and Albania will be reversed

Outgoing EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, addressed the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on Thursday. Debate was mainly focused on the Western Balkans.

The enlargement commissioner once again voiced regret that EU member states failed to reach consensus in October to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania and reiterated that this seriously damaged the credibility of the European Union.

According to him, the EU cannot afford to deal with reforms at home first, and only then to start processes in the region, as there’s a high risk of reform backlash in the Western Balkans in the meantime.

“Credibility is something that has suffered here. Around the world, the EU has talked about the success of multilateralism. We are leading the way there, but by failing to reach the decision here regarding this issue, our credibility has taken a hit,” Hahn told MEPs.

He noted that the credibility of the EU is one of its greatest advantages.

“We have credibility problem with North Macedonia and Albania. We set conditions and said that if those conditions are met, we will do our part. If these conditions are met, they will get green light,” he added. “I hope that the strategic mistake of not having given the deserved green light for opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania will be reversed.”

Hahn mentioned that conditions set to the two countries in June 2018 were decided upon a consensus of the EU member states.

He added that if it’s confirmed that requirements are fulfilled by countries, then there shouldn’t be any doubts that a green light should be given to start talks.

The green light, Hahn pointed out, is above all an acknowledgement of the progress made by the two countries, and he warned the EU to be careful of the consequences that this blockade may have on other countries in the region, reiterating that it’s precisely the EU perspective that is the greatest impetus for Belgrade and Prishtina to settle their dispute.

MEPs praised the outgoing enlargement commissioner for his cooperation and work in the neighbourhood and enlargement policy. Latvian European People’s Party MEP, Sandra Kalniete said she felt really ashamed because of the decision at the October EU summit.

“I told Ambassador of North Macedonia whenever I met him: “Just solve the name issue”. Damage to our credibility is huge. The most important thing now is to see what we can do to push the process forward. If we disappoint country’s hopes at yet another summit, it would be a disaster. We should be ready for a decision when the Western Balkans Summit takes place,” Kalniete said.