30 October 2019

By refusing to support Albania and North Macedonia’s accession, France holds EU’s enlargement process hostage

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

The October 2019 European Council decided to give no date for Albania and North Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations start. EU’s decision raised many critics in both countries and it is already producing some negative effects. Albania’s political crisis has even fewer chances to be solved, now, lacking an EU accession perspective, and in North Macedonia the rightist forces, which were firmly opposing the “Prespes Agreement”, may return to power. This will also negatively influence the Belgrade-Pristina “dialogue”.

Image source: Mediafax

The European Council-a decision to have major effects for the Western Balkans

The analysts are worryingly analyzing the effects of the French veto in the European Council, from October 2019, and are warning about the first negative effects. Immediately after EU communicated its decision, the Macedonian prime-minister asked for the organization of early parliamentary elections in North Macedonia.

Paris has also announced the necessity to modify the EU accession logic and criteria, giving no other further details.

Many parliamentarians, as well as European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, have showed their regret on European Council’s decision. According to D. Tusk, after European Commission’s clear recommendation, great part of the EU member states have asked for the start of the accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, but they did not get to a consensus. Personally, he thinks that the decision is a great mistake and hopes that it will be solved in the following European Council, from Zagreb (May 2020). The current European Commission president, Jean Claude Juncker, had a similar position.

Many deputies in the European Parliament (especially the “green” side) said that it is a huge mistake not to date the negotiations’ start, because both states deserve the European perspective, but, the European have “shut the door in their face”. Therefore, it is being highlighted that EU can lose its credibility, because it did not keep its promise, meanwhile the two states have already achieved some of the reforms. Furthermore, North Macedonia has even changed its constitutional name…

Skopje’s authorities’ disappointment is even bigger as before the European Council reunion the Sofia critics and warnings, on Skopje’s postponement for harmonizing many of Bulgaria and North Macedonia’s common history elements, were starting to vanish.

North Macedonia…where to?

On 20.10, in Skopje, country’s president, Stevo Pendarovski, met with the representatives of the main political parties. After the meeting, the Macedonian prime-minister, Zoran Zaev (leader of the Social Democratic Union in Macedonia/ SDSM) stated that they will organize early parliamentary elections on 12.04.2021. Zaev proposed 22 or 29.12.2019, but the opposition parties have refused the proposal, thinking that there is no time for a temporary government to prepare the early parliamentary elections.

According to the plan, prime-minister Zaev will resign on 03.01.2021, to allow the establishment of a new government with technical mandate.

The North Macedonia parties did not clarify the details of the future temporary government. We expect a “battle” for the prime-minister and some ministries’ positions (internal affairs, labor etc.).

North Macedonia’s electoral evolution can be very different, from the victory of the same parties that won at the 2016 early elections and the preservation of the “Prespa Agreement”, therefore, the European and Euroatlantic future of the country, up to opposition’s victory, which could try to take down the agreement. The latter measures would push Atene to block, again, the Macedonian state’s EU and NATO accession.

SDSM may try to argument, before and during the electoral campaign, the necessity of the “Prespa Agreement” and of the European and Euroatlantic path of the country, despite the European Council October failure. Hereof the recent statement of prime-minister Zaev, according to which the country is on the “right track”, but… it happened to be delayed for 13 years and a half.

In order to support his evaluation, Zaev has praised the EU partners and some of the past two years and a half economic indicators (the 3,6% economic growth, the establishment of 54.000 new jobs, the exports increase with 16%, the growth of industrial production with 9,8%). According to the prime-minister, these were not by far the maximum results, but only some indicators that the country can do a lot more, if its doors are opened (a clear allusion to Greece giving up the political blockage on North Macedonia’s accession to NATO and EU).

Albania –“collateral victim”

Albania’s prime-minister, E. Rama, has stated that his country is a “collateral victim” of the battle for EU’s supremacy, as his country did not get the approval to start the accession negotiations because of a small number of states, meanwhile the others wanted it.

The actors involved in the political crisis from Albania were somehow circumspect also because of EU’s (and US) pressures on promoting the reforms and the organized crimes and corruption combat. As the date of the accession negotiations start got postponed, EU’s “attractiveness” may decrease, not only for the Albanian politicians, but also for the people.  Therefore, the reforms may get postponed and even blocked for good.

Such an evolution, along with the “Kosovar” file, might lead to the “activation” of some warnings from the Tirana politicians (including the current prime-minister, E. Rama), on the necessity to unify Albania with the other “Albanian territories” in the region and, firstly, with Kosovo. In fact, some analysts think that this process has started with these two states’ foreign policy coordination, the joint functioning of diplomatic representatives and the gradual elimination of common border’s checks.

Divergences in EU and… opportunities for Russia

Some analysts and experts in the Balkan space think that EU’s decision on postponing Albania and North Macedonia’s accession negotiations is negatively affecting the entire Western Balkans space and it is damaging the results this region got on the EU path.

The general perception is that European Council’s decision was influenced by France and the French president, Emmanuel Macron (supported by Denmark and Holland). Therefore, some analysts are hoping that the political leaders in these states will explain the population that this is not about a failure, nor the fault of these states, but European Council’s decision is rather France’s effort (especially the French president) to become EU’s leader. It was also surprising that there was no previous consultation with Berlin…

It is normal for these states to get frustrated, especially North Macedonia, because it made many compromises lately; it even changed the Constitution and country’s name to unlock its European and Euroatlantic path.

EU’s decision will affect the Belgrade-Pristina relations and these capitals’ “dialogue”, mediated by EU. EU proved that it is no longer capable to get this “dialogue” done, nor to ensure the implementation of he agreed agreements. With these new circumstances, and when there are also new “actors” involved in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina (US, the Russian Federation, France-Germany), it is all the more difficult for EU to “unlock” the dialogue. EU’s task will be even more complicated because of the possibility for Albin Kurti to become the new prime-minister, who demands “full mutuality” in the Kosovo-Serbia relation and who is firmly refusing the establishment of the Serbian Municipalities Association in Kosovo, as required by Belgrade and the Serbians from Kosovo (with administrative, executive, legislative and representative competences). Two experts from the Democratization Policy Council (DPC), Kurt Bassuener and Toby Vogel, think that the French president, E. Macron, in an unpreceded “political vandalism” policy, has killed the enlargement policy, which was, not long ago, the main EU function and the only EU strategy regarding its Balkans neighbors.  In a joint text for EU Observes, they are stating that EU broke its promises, and France has even gone further, holdnh the enlargement process hostage and asking to be reviwed, before starting the negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

According to them, if the “French conditions” will be maintained, the enlargement process for the states that did not even start the negotiations process could disappear, and for the ones that started the process, it could result confusing. They also think that North Macedonia risks being, again, ran by the VMRO-DPMNE rightist political organization and Nikola Gruevski, after the April 2021 elections.

K. Baussuener and T.Vogel agreed, partially, with France’s evaluation that Albania and North Macedonia are not ready to start the accession negotiations, but they think that this is not actually Paris’s reason, but the will to become EU’s leader, especially after Brexit. Therefore, the enlargement process and the Balkan states are only a “collateral victim” of France’s efforts to show off its supremacy.

Not least, they are both criticizing E. Macron for joining Hungarian prime-minister Viktor Orban and the other illiberals at EU’s periphery, like Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, and Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci. K. Baussuener and T.Vogel are also mentioning Paris’s openness towards Western Balkans’ territorial corrections, an action supported by US and opposed by Berlin.

US’s Senate ratification (22.10.2019) of the accession Protocol of North Macedonia to NATO can still be a positive element, although is not the result of the European Council’s evolution from October 2019. Most likely, other EU and NATO member states will also adopt similar measures, to encourage Skopje and Tirana’s leaders to continue with their efforts and stay committed to the European path. Thus, the main negative effects in the Western Balkans of the October 2019 European Council decision to not start the EU accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia are:

-the uncertainties on the political evolutions of both countries;

-the decrease of their chances to restart the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue;

-the creation of proper conditions for Russian Federation’s comeback in the Western Balkans (North Macedonia).

Most likely, the Western intelligence services’ analysts are already studying this last aspect, along with the progresses made with the “Balkan Stream” gas pipeline (which is a continuation of “TurkStream” in Bulgaria and Serbia, through Hungary), a project which increases Moscow’s prestige and economic influence.

Translated by Andreea Soare