France has blocked the opening of talks for both Albania and North Macedonia to join the European Union during a meeting of EU ministers at the General Affairs Council on Tuesday.
The French European Affairs Minister, Amélie de Montchalin, explained that further reforms were needed in both countries before accession talks could commence. Albania had undertaken reforms, including undertaking a judicial vetting procedure, in an effort to appease the EU. Albania’s Foreign Affairs minister, Gent Cakaj, said the rejection dismissed those efforts and it could “undermine reform forces in the region”.
Meanwhile, North Macedonia had undertaken a series of reforms at the request of the EU, including changing its name to appease neighbouring Greece. Nikola Dimitrov, the country’s Foreign Minister, highlighted that despite the efforts of the country, EU disunity had continued to delay negotiations.
France raised concerns with the way in which the Commission conducts its accession negotiations and its approach to addressing the brain drain that occurring in the countries during accession. The issue of a reduced talent pool was not addressed in the case of Serbian during its candidacy for accession or during the Eastern Enlargement of 2004.
The rejection by France of commencing accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia has highlighted concerns of a strategic vacuum being filled by Russia, Turkey and China who are vying for influence in the region. Some commentators have suggested that North Macedonia is better equipped for EU membership that Serbia, which is a favourite for accession.
The position of Macron’s government on Macedonia stands in opposition to Merkel as the opening of the talks had been a priority for Germany ahead of the Council Summit of 17 and 18 October. However, it is understood that Germany remains unconvinced about the EU entering into accession talks with Albania.
EU leaders were unable to find agreement at the October Summit with France continuing to oppose the opening of accession talks for both Albania and North Macedonia. A split emerged with the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark proposing to prioritise the opening of talks for North Macedonia, while Italy and Germany opposed this, instead wanting concurrent accession talks for the Balkan countries.