The divisions in Europe and the interests of the countries that formed the EU are the main reason for the decision to postpone the date for accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. This is the general assessment of many diplomats in the main European capitals, including officials in the European Union for the (un)expected cold shower delivered by ministers at their meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday. The most remarkable is that those countries that have prevented the setting of a date for Skopje and Tirana remain silent, while conspirators for EU enlargement react with disappointment, even anger.
The pillar of the “very few countries” that disagreed with setting a date, as EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn explained, is France, to which Germany, or Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party CDU, have unexpectedly joined. Macron’s party entered the group of liberals in the European elections, and is now a leading force there, and what is noticeable is that among those who have the biggest objections to enlargement are the liberal governments in the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.
The well-known Balkan politics expert and visiting Professor at the European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, James Ker-Lindsay, explained in several tweets this liberal game under French dictation. “As a European Liberal, I am appalled at the way Emmanuel Macron is holding EU enlargement hostage. We have made promises to the countries of the Western Balkans. We are not keeping them. This stands against the basic values of Renew Europe family. ”
The disappointed Johannes Hahn, at a press conference after the meeting, was even more direct: “Let’s be clear, today we risk not having a credible process at all. If the EU in the future wants to have a role as a player and not only a payer, it has to begin with a sound performance at the Western Balkans, as a precondition to be acknowledged and credible partner”. Hahn was also clear that Paris was not alone requesting a postponement of the date for negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. When France asked the European Commission’s progress report to be postponed from April until the end of the European elections, “Germany supported the French request, and others did it as well”. This postponed the Bundestag’s debate on the clean recommendations of the European Commission and the outcome of the Luxembourg debate was clear even before it was held.
Sources from the European Union said yesterday that “many countries simply thought that three weeks were not enough for them to study the reports of the European Commission, and therefore decided to revisit the dates by October”. Some say that North Macedonia’s perspective is brighter than that of Albania, mostly due to the historic Prespa Agreement, which is in several parts specifically marked in the conclusions of the Council of Ministers, but no one can know whether Hahn’s forecasts, expressed at the press conference that he is “extremely confident” that there will be a green light in October, will be realized.
Angela Merkel’s behavior over the enlargement undermined part of her aura in the Balkans, of course, in North Macedonia. After the poor result in the European elections (although her party won), the CDU is awaiting uncertain election competitions in three provinces in September and October. According to many, the postponement of the debate in the Bundestag lies in these elections in three provinces in the former East Germany: Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia, according to the polls led by the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration party AfD.
The elections in Brandenburg and Saxony are on September 1, and in Thuringia on October 27. Thus, for the concerns of the government in Berlin, the cost should be paid by the countries of the Western Balkans. No one can know what the decision of the Bundestag will be in September, and whether the forecasts of German Minister for European Affairs, Michael Roth, that the recommendations will get a green light, will really be realized.
One EU diplomat, which is directly related to the European Union’s policy towards the Balkans, told Politico that postponing the Bundestag’s declaration by the end of September “providing France with a great way to delay the whole process.” Sometimes we have the impression that France wants to pass the ball to the next Commission, which is likely to start with a new evaluation, and thus will get additional time to postpone.” The mandate of the present European Commission ends at the end of October and if no decision is made on a date for negotiations it will be an infamous end to the work of Johannes Hahn and Federica Mogherini.
According to some diplomats, part of the ministers’ debate to postpone the decision was also the insistence of the 13 countries that, through a statement, called for a date for both North Macedonia and Albania and not split the group. Some countries were not inclined to make such a decision and it was much easier to postpone the whole thing. This is reflected in the conclusions for North Macedonia and Albania, which if the mention of the historic success of the Prespa Agreement for our country is excluded, they are completely the same.
At a press conference, Hahn urged North Macedonia and Albania not to miss the chance and continue implementing the reforms, and not leave room for contemplation for a new delay to the EU member states. But the question is how motivated will the governments in Skopje and Tirana will be after the disappointment coming from Luxembourg. The Financial Times in its editorial comment titled ” The EU is repeating past mistakes in the Balkans” raises the question of the momentum in the opposite direction – that the EU is losing momentum to send a message to the wider region, which is the most unstable in Europe, to show that European doors are open. “Time and again, European leaders have made the mistake of competing against each other in the Balkans, or of treating the region either as a backwater irrelevant to their core concerns or as a swamp from which richer, more stable Western Europe must quarantine itself. For 200 years events have shown none of these approaches works — indeed, they often end in far more trouble. It would be a tragedy for the EU to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Part of these dilemmas may be clarified on July 1, when a French-German summit with the Western Balkan countries is to be held in Paris. Let’s see what Macron and Merkel will tell the Balkan leaders and how they will defend the decision that their countries have a European perspective, but will unlikely have EU membership.