Author: Sefer Selimi Jr.
Even after last night’s meeting between French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel, France’s isolated stand to block the opening of negotiations between the European Union, Albania and North Macedonia did not change. French insistence on changing negotiation methodology risks turning into a destructive boomerang for progressive policies in the Western Balkans, especially against North Macedonia which is on the verge of NATO membership, a process that is of particular concern to Russia, which has repeatedly and openly expressed its opposition.
It appears that the French leader has been taken as a hostage by his domestic politics and his rivalry with Germany over the dominance of European agenda as well as politics and he uses it to boost the low rating he enjoys in France and as a counterweight to amortize the extremist right, Marine Le Pen. Macron’s nervousness can also be seen from the perspective of rejecting Sylvie Goulard’s nomination for Commissioner, which suffered a defeat at the European Parliament’s internal committees on trade and industry with 82 votes against and 26 votes in her favor. The French presidency called this failure a ‘victim of political games’, even though Sylvie Goulard was a controversial proposal as a result of her allegations of her duty abuse during the time when she was a member of the European Parliament.
From this perspective, doubts are raised that France’s isolated position to open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia is not principled but merely a political bargain within the European Union. Knowing Germany’s weight in decision-making within the Union and the German Bundestag’s decision in favor of negotiations, Macron’s insistence is a tactic to seek concession for his narrow interests rather than a sincere insistence on reforming the European Union. But what is the cost of the YES and NO that we as citizens of these countries will have to pay and how will they affect regional policy?
YES for Albania and North Macedonia – Regardless of the negotiation methodology, the opening of negotiations means confirmation of the reforms that have been initiated and those that should be done in the future. Although the reforms undertaken have their failures, it is an undeniable fact that both Governments have invested their political capital to advance the integration agenda, namely its return as a Government priority. Opening negotiations would further increase the pressure on Governments to deepen, accelerate and implement these reforms. The main impact would be on confirming the perspectives for these two countries; and in translation it means hope that will encourage economic development and soften the systematic migration of citizens, a counterargument to the President Macron’s argument, who has strongly emphasized in favor of his position. In political aspect, this scenario would strengthen the progressive forces that are committed to the Europeanization of societies and make the positions of regressive and Euroscepticism forces more difficult.
YES for North Macedonia, NO for Albania – Although this scenario is one of the most likely one, although it may come through ” creative solutions ” that are often consensual in order to satisfy all parties, it still comes with great risks. Leaving out Albania is better understood by countries in the region such as Greece and Bulgaria, which are more aware of regional dynamics, and therefore their insistence on a common package is as strong as France’s determination not to open negotiations and the Dutch unconditional request for their separation. Albania, besides being one of the most important states of the Western Balkans, it is also a sentimental, cultural and historical connection for many citizens of the countries with which it borders. The idea and demand for national unity of Albanians was replaced by the idea of great EU integration as a European citizen, and the failure to realize it could encourage the revival of old ideas. This will of course affect the political stability of the Western Balkans vis-a-vis the European Union.
NO to Albania and North Macedonia – the only outcome this scenario guarantees is unpredictability. This would be a dangerous confirmation of the conspiracy theories of Euro sceptics and all other regressive and revisionist forces that have historically undermined the democratization and Europeanization of the Western Balkans. Failure to confirm the European perspective would kill even the little hope left at the citizens of these countries while it would be undermining, frustrating, and discouraging for all the relevant actors that try to build a democratic society on European values, paving the way for safety for all other competing options of democracy and the European Union.
It is a fact that the main culprits must be sought within our politics of incompetence, lack of seriousness, and failure to build functioning democracies. No one dares to amnesty our politicians, weak institutions and bad policies in favor of politicians and on the citizen’s expense. But the negotiation deadlock will remove from our hands a vital instrument to increase the pressure and demand more from our governors, locking themselves in a dangerous spiral of ‘play of the guilty’. Others are a riddle that the future will have to unravel and perhaps once again repeat the story of a France that was not on our side.