Even though the head of EU diplomacy Federica Mogherini promised North Macedonia that the EU accession talks would start by the end of the year, the Macedonians will probably have to wait a little longer.
North Macedonia has been an EU candidate country for 14 years. This year, under dramatic circumstances, the country managed to remove one of the major obstacles that prevented North Macedonia from opening the accession talks, i.e., the country resolved the dispute with neighboring Greece and changed its name. On Tuesday, 27 Member States agreed that both North Macedonia and Albania had made significant progress in restoring the rule of law. “Both countries have fulfilled the conditions and thus deserve to start EU accession negotiations,” said Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, adding that he was disappointed by the meeting of the Council of the European Union as France thwarted the ambitions of both countries.
France argues that the progress of North Macedonia and Albania in restoring the rule of law is insufficient. Even though the Member States did not agree with this in the case of North Macedonia, France found allies that supported its decision to block EU accession talks with Albania.
Among the French arguments is that the process of opening accession talks is unstoppable. But the case of Turkey shows that it can take years. However, the truth is that the rules should not change during the game – and that is what France aims to do. On Wednesday, President Emmanuel Macron argued that the accession process is “bizarre” as the EU promises the candidate country visa-free travel ahead of the accession negotiations. Macron then asked how he should explain to the French people that everything is going well with Albania when “thousands and thousands of Albanians” seek asylum in his country.
However, it seems that France decided not to support the accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania primarily based on the third argument, which states that further extension of the EU might be politically tricky. In the case of Albania, there is also the fact that most of the local population adheres to Islam, which many Europeans may worry about.
France – unlike Germany or Britain – has never been keen on moving the borders of the EU eastward. French politicians like to talk about a small, more efficient, and more interconnected core of the EU. In other words, they prefer a multi-speed Europe, in which countries like the Czech Republic would stay on the periphery.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has previously complained that the EU is not fair to his country. Now, it seems his words have been confirmed. Meanwhile, predators are waiting to seize the opportunity in the region. China invests in Albanian infrastructure, Russia tries to exert influence in Skopje and Belgrade, while Turkey is keeping friendly relations with Bosnia.
It is as if the EU does not have enough problems in its own neighborhood. Currently, it risks the emergence of another Iron Curtain in the Western Balkans.