Emmanuel Macron’s administration is believed to strongly oppose negotiations over the Balkan states, still scarred by 1990s conflicts, joining the EU in the near future. The break-up of the former Yugoslavia left significant parts of the region in ruins. The EU has encouraged the governments of these countries to rebuild and democratise their states and societies in order to stabilise the region.
But the Balkan states are struggling with crime and corruption, with many member states believing Russia, China or Turkey could take advantage of a “strategic vacuum” in the troubled region if the EU fails to increase prospects in the area.
However, nations such as France and the Netherlands fear the state have not done enough to cut corruption before the process begins.
France is leading a minority bloc of EU countries hoping to put an end to the talks in the coming weeks.
Officials and diplomats believe criminals currently operating in Albania and North Macedonia will attempt to abuse the EU’s single market when access is agreed.
Donald Tusk is leading efforts to expand the EU bloc to include the west Balkan nations
France is believed to be against the ascension of Albania and North Macedonia
In June, talks were postponed until October after ministers failed to agree on a date to start talks.
The EU’s presidents, Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and David Sassoli, as well as Ursula von der Leyen, who will take over the European Commission next month, have all said accession talks should start “no later” than this month.
A date has been set for October 15 in Luxembourg – just days before an EU summit in Brussels on October 17 and 18.
The crunch summit will see the UK make a last attempt to secure a Brexit deal before the deadline day of October 31.
European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker waves as he receives Albania’s Prime Minister
But, despite the process being expected to take several years to finalise, France has spoken of how the ascension of the western Balkan nations would “undermine credibility” in the bloc.
Paris argues the EU needs to resolve its own internal problems – and deal with Brexit – before admitting new member states into the bloc.
In order to be rewarded with ascension into the bloc, all 28 member states must unanimously agree.
It comes at a time when several EU countries, including Italy, are considering breaking off from the bloc.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (L) welcomes Donald Tusk upon arrival in Skopje in September
A French official told Reuters: “They are not there yet. We are asking them to make additional efforts.
“Negotiations cannot be opened in October 2019, we will need to reassess the situation somewhere in 2020.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has been repeatedly accused of holding North Macedonia hostage to his plans for reforms that deepen EU integration.
An infographic explaining the next European Commission
One diplomat from a country willing to open its doors to the Balkan states said: “This is very frustrating for most of the member states.
“Our credibility is at stake.
“North Macedonia and Albania have done a lot.
“Yes, a lot more remains to be done but opening membership talks is just the first step, the process would take years and they would have to fulfil all the criteria before they are allowed in.”
Despite opposition, North Macedonia remains “very optimistic” about its chances of securing EU membership.
Radmila Sekerinska, the country’s deputy prime minister, said the chances are “high” but warned there could still be another disappointment yet that would “empower autocrats and populists”.
She said: “We are very optimistic and we’re very ambitious. We are not expecting membership tomorrow.
“What we are expecting is to start the difficult and challenging process of accession.”