Macron and Merkel say EU enlargement is not in the horizon at Berlin summit

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 30, 2019 16:19

Macron and Merkel say EU enlargement is not in the horizon at Berlin summit

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  • On the eve of European elections, and as the danger of growing support for populists and nationalist parties is looming, political experts have pointed out how EU country leaders avoid promoting an enlargement policy.

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TIRANA, April 29 - In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, leaders of the European Union’s two main countries, confirmed on Monday their attention to the Western Balkans, leaving understated, however, the enlargement process. Macron promised his country's re-engagement in the region, “but today we want to work together for its stability,” he said, adding that Paris would help key economic, social, security and rule of law reforms, before talking about EU enlargement.

On the eve of European elections, and as the danger of growing support for populists and nationalist parties is looming, political experts have pointed out how EU country leaders avoid promoting an enlargement policy.

“For the moment, the news is not the EU's enlargement policy but a regional stability policy,” Macron said.

“We have organized this joint initiative because we are focused on the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries, but I want to make it very clear that today membership talks are not up for discussion, as there is a procedure run by the Commission for that,” Merkel said.

Nonetheless, Merkel personally received Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama and that of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev; Both countries hope to get a green light to open EU membership negotiations in June.

After the meeting with Merkel, Rama press release from his Tirana office was more cautious than usual.

“The meeting discussed the progress of the justice reform and the process of Albania's integration into the European Union. In addition, Prime Minister Rama spoke about the Albanian government’s expectations of the European Commission report, which is expected to be published by the end of May. Prime Minister Rama thanked the Chancellor for the continued attention and support that Germany has given to further push Albania's path towards the European Union,” explained the statement of the Albanian government.

More enthusiastic appeared to be Albania’s acting Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj, who participated in the talks.

“The meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed once again Germany's absolute support for the opening of Albania's EU membership negotiations. Albania's great progress in the five key priorities, with particular emphasis on judicial reform, gets the highest rating from Germany,” wrote Cakaj in a Facebook post.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev, on the other hand, was also restrained.

In his Twitter posts regarding the meeting, he explained that “with Chancellor Merkel we confirmed that Northern Macedonia and the Prespa Agreement are a positive example in the Balkans and that this success is an encouragement for all the countries participating in the Western Balkans Conference. I emphasized that the cooperation, friendship and reforms we are implementing in the North Macedonia are serious arguments for a positive decision by the European Union to start negotiations over the summer.”

Unlike a year ago, the European Commission Report will be published by the end of April. Meanwhile, two weeks later the European Council is expected to speak for Albania and Macedonia.

It is precisely the short time between these two moments that may serve as a reason for some of the member states to require a postponement, at least until September, before they come up with a decision.

Merkel and Macron’s words of advice towards the six Western Balkan countries aspiring to become part of the EU soon enough came during the Berlin process summit, which took place on Monday.

The EU has long held out the possibility of bringing western Balkan countries into the bloc to foster economic progress and improve broader regional stability.

Montenegro and Serbia have already formally opened negotiations to join the EU, while Albania and North Macedonia are candidates and hope to be given the green light to open formal accession negotiations at a June summit, which other aspiring nations will see as a test of the EU’s readiness to engage.

Meanwhile, Kosovo is still to become a candidate country for EU accession, or have its visas liberalized, and Merkel said she hoped the Berlin meeting would contribute to solving the dispute between Serbia and its former province, whose independence Serbia has still not recognized.

In addition to expecting its candidate status approval, Kosovo citizens have also been asking for their visas to be liberalized, as they are the last in the region to be traveling towards EU with a visa regime.

Regarding Kosovo’s visa liberalization, Macron said during the Berlin summit they have learned to be cautious from their experience with Albania - in this sense, Albania’s increase of asylum seeking request and the prospect of the Netherlands’ reintroducing a visa regime for the country, as was proposed last week by the NL government to the European Commission, has made matters worse for Kosovo according to political experts.

Meanwhile, political experts have also expressed concern about the possibility that Albania’s opening of accession negotiations in June or September becoming smaller, due to the deadlock in which the country currently is.

Albania is currently lacking a valid opposition, as the main Democratic Party and Socialist Movement for Integration lawmakers resigned their parliamentary mandates with the intention to boycott both the parliament and the upcoming local elections.

The opposition claims the Socialist government won the parliamentary elections by ballot buying and ties to organized crime and is demanding the resignation of Rama and the establishment of a caretaker government which will enable early elections.

The opposition stated last week it will boycott the local elections from taking place altogether, as it considers them “fake,” just like it does the opposition lawmakers from the candidates lists who have been swearing at parliament over the last two weeks and the opposition party Democratic Conviction, which was registered last week and declared it will participate in the elections.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 30, 2019 16:19