EU decides: "No opening of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia"

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 21, 2019 12:58

EU decides:

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  • 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.

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TIRANA, Oct. 18 - 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." 

Reactions came plenty from all sides and levels of the political spectrum both internationally and in Albania and North Macedonia. 

North Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov wrote on social media that "the least the European Union owes the region is to be direct with us. If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans, if the 2003 Thessaloniki pledges do not stand, the citizens deserve to know."

Meanwhile, Slovenian European Parliament MP Tanja Fajon said this was an unacceptable decision and accused France of "playing a dirty game and we will all pay the price".

Carl Bildt, co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Affairs, said that "this is no small issue. By blocking accession negotiations for the Balkans, France, the Netherlands and Denmark not only violated earlier commitments, but stripped the EU of any credible strategic approach to this important region."

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, while expressing regret over the decision, warned that "this will undermine the credibility of the European Union in the region and strengthen the ambitions of Moscow and Beijing."

On his side, analyst Florian Bieber of the University of Graz in Austria said the failure would cause long-term damage.

"How can we argue for the EU in the Western Balkans? How can we say that genuine effort will be rewarded? The EU and Macron in particular betrayed what the Union stands for. Like the false promises of the 'hour of Europe' dawning in 1991, this failure will cause lasting damage," he wrote in a tweet. 


European Parliament to object EC decision 

On Thursday, a number of Albanian media reported that the European Parliament asked the council not to block the opening of negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia.

With 412 votes pro, 136 against and 30 abstentions, the EP underlined that "both countries fulfill the requests that were made to open negotiations," expressing "deep disappointment" for the EC's lack of consensus.

In its resolution, the EP "calls on the European Council, in light of these issues and basic problems, to stop interrupting the perspective of accession negotiations and to seek through a commission proposal a new partnership with these countries; calls on the commission to monitor how funds are used in N. Macedonia and to ensure a detailed report for the parliament; advises the President to forward this resolution to the commission, to the council, to the governments and parliaments of the member states and to the governments and parliaments of Albania and Northern Macedonia respectively.


US: "Disappointed with EU's inability to recognize countries' strong efforts to reform" 

The United States expressed disappointment "that the European Council did not recognize each country's very strong reform efforts through a decision to open membership negotiations at this time."

In a statement issued by US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus, it was stated that "a positive decision would have reaffirmed the credibility of their path to the EU and would have resolutely opposed malicious foreign actors seeking to undermine the values of the Western and Euro-Atlantic community."

The statement underlines the fact that "the European Council did not say 'no' to neither Albania nor Northern Macedonia, nor did it set new conditions for the opening of accession negotiations. Hopefully, the European Council will reach a consensus on a positive decision for both countries ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit next summer."

The US State Department statement said "the United States will remain a strategic partner of Northern Macedonia and Albania as they continue to work to strengthen the rule of law, advance anti-corruption efforts, develop their economies and to fight organized crime. We urge both countries to remain steadfast in building transparent, rule-based, democratic societies that respond to the needs of citizens. The United States will continue to work with European partners to advance the common goals of stability and security in the Western Balkans."


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 21, 2019 12:58