WERE NORTH MACEDONIA AND ALBANIA THE “SACRIFICE” OF MACRON-MERKEL’S ANTAGONISM?
It is not known whether Prime Minister Zaev will resign and will the country go on early elections, but everyone is aware that a turbulent political period is coming with an impact on the security of the region. This negative decision will suspend the practical implementation of the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the agreement with Bulgaria. The Brussels fiasco following after the French veto may have a negative impact on the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. This is after the EU’s failure to comply with the agreement with North Macedonia and Albania which has largely undermined Brussels’ confidence as a mediator that may affect with its offerings for the two countries that are in an open context.
Author: Xhelal Neziri
The European Union (EU) countries failed to set a date agreed for the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. In the conclusions of the European Council summit, an institution comprised of the leaders of the 28 member states of the Union, it is not written a single word about the decision to start the enlargement process with the two Balkan countries. There you can find only conclusions about the UK’s exit from the EU.
The biggest disappointment is in Skopje, where the Government led by Zoran Zaev made major concessions for getting the date: changed the name of the state in the Agreement with Greece and signed heavy agreements with Bulgaria on good neighborly relations with its neighbor and EU member state.
NEW RULES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME
France remained firm to the point of not giving the date to the two aspirant countries, despite the insistence of Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and other member states. The French president’s reasons were somewhat unclear: to change the enlargement process methodology and to meet certain preconditions before the start of negotiations.
When it comes to the methodology, the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic himself, said rightly: “The rules are not changed in the middle of the game.”
Concerning the fulfillment of the preconditions, on 29 May this year the European Commission (EC), which plays the role of the European government, including French ministers, has clearly recommended that North Macedonia and Albania should start accession negotiations after they have completed reforms required by Brussels.
“In light of the significant progress achieved and the relevant conditions that have been met, the Commission today recommended that the Council now open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia,” the EU executive said in his latest annual progress report.
France’s opposition seemed to have more to do with Albania than with North Macedonia. At a joint press conference in Toulouse, France, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, just a day before the summit in Brussels, French President Macron made it clear he would not allow the start of negotiations with Albania, leaving a trail of hope for North Macedonia. “I think we need to reform this (enlargement) procedure, which at the moment is irreversible, unprogressive and not adapted. We do things that are bizarre … We give them visa liberalization, the right to move freely in our countries, even before the start of negotiations. An example is Albania … ” said Macron at a French-German intergovernmental meeting with an aim at overcoming deep differences in the EU between the two main states.
Macron and Merkel have had profound differences for almost a year in some areas: for Britain’s exit from the EU Macron insists on immediate Brexit, while Merkel for a slow exit to avoid additional shaking in the Union; Macron calls for more solidarity in the economic development of member states in order to iron out the differences highlighted in this regard, but this is not acceptable to Merkel; Macron calls Brussels’ trade talks with Washington “incoherent” but Merkel’s backing is due to the large presence of German companies in the US; Macron opposes talks with Washington on trade while the US is out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which in 2017 was abandoned by US President Donald Trump.
“Emmanuel Macron does no longer hide his impatience with Germany,” said Claire Demesmay, head of the Franco-German relations program at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “We have clearly moved into an election cycle and political competition. Both leaders follow two antagonistic logics. And they have to show this to the public,” she told AFP.
WHAT DOES THE FRENCH STRATEGY PREDICT FOR THE BALKANS?
Were North Macedonia and Albania the “sacrifice” of Macron-Merkel’s antagonism? Apparently, yes.
Macron wants to oppose all that is or thinks to be of German interest. In April this year, he presented a document he called “France’s Strategy for the Western Balkans” in Berlin an informal summit with Germany, which was seen as a competing document of the Berlin Process initiated by Merkel.
“Since the beginning of the 2000s and the end of the armed conflicts linked to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the stabilization and democratic, economic and social development of the Western Balkan countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia) , Montenegro, Serbia) has recognized significant progress. Slovenia became a member of the European Union in 2004, and Croatia in 2013, ”said in the French strategy.
However, it emphasizes the need for numerous reforms to enable the region to stabilize permanently and respond to the challenges it faces. As preconditions are set the political ones (unresolved disputes, although the Prespa Agreement represents significant progress and an example of regional dialogue); economic and social issues; difficulties in establishing a permanent rule of law; security issues and external influences that divert the region from its European perspective.
According to this list of criteria, France should not have blocked Skopje and Tirana at the start of accession negotiations, but rather – it would have to persuade the other two skeptical states (the Netherlands and Denmark). Even more so when the French veto will badly affect the last condition of its strategy – security and external influences that divert the region from a European perspective. Against this Macron’s blockade it seems that the ones who would be happier to this condition are the very players of regional and global politics – Russia, China, Turkey and the countries of the Middle East.
The concrete measures planned in this strategy are to intensify the visits of French officials to the Balkans, to promote economic and social development through the intervention of the French Development Agency (AFD) with 100 to 150 million euros, to fight organized crime and corruption, terrorism and radicalism and so on.
ITS EU’S FAULT, NOT SKOPJE’S OR TIRANA’S
Commissioner Johannes Hahn made it clear – the fault for not setting the date is neither of North Macedonia nor of Albania, but of the European Union (EU) that was unable to meet its commitments. Political and state leaders are expected to gather at the state president’s cabinet in Skopje on Sunday to discuss the new situation that could escalate into a new political crisis. The opposition led by Christian Mickovski of VMRO-DPMNE has called for protests and street protests, as this Government, even after painful compromises with Greece and Bulgaria, failed to secure a clear European perspective.
It is not known whether Prime Minister Zaev will resign and will the country go on early elections, but everyone is aware that a turbulent political period is coming with an impact on the security of the region. This negative decision will suspend the practical implementation of the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the agreement with Bulgaria. The Brussels fiasco following after the French veto may have a negative impact on the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. This is after the EU’s failure to comply with the agreement with North Macedonia and Albania which has largely undermined Brussels’ confidence as a mediator that may affect with its offerings for the two countries that are in open context.