North Macedonia gained the support of the remaining 27 members of the European Union for resolving its dispute with Greece over its country’s name. Its former name, “Macedonia,” was the same as the name of the adjacent region in Greece, thus causing ambiguity.
In the case of Albania, the Netherlands, Denmark, and also reportedly Spain, are of the opinion that opening negotiations is premature because of slow progress with reforms in the country, according to EurActiv.
The European Commission, which supervises entry talks, insists that both Albania and North Macedonia have met all the criteria. EU leaders had promised a decision on their futures by the end of October.
All EU state members have to agree before approval is given for accession talks.
North Macedonia, Albania, and four other Balkan countries—Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia—are trying to join the European Union following the ethnic wars of the 1990s that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Croatia and Slovenia have joined the EU.
In Brussels on the eve of the summit, North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said China and Russia would “fill in the vacuum” left by the Europeans and urged EU leaders “not to fade out the bright stars” of the European Union flag, according to Reuters.
North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov, wrote on Twitter: “The least that the European Union owes the region is to be straightforward with us. If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans … the citizens deserve to know.”
Paris says the EU faces too many challenges to let in two more states from the Balkans, a region still scarred by the legacy of 1990s wars and struggling with crime and corruption.
The challenges include Brexit, China, which is seen as a “strategic rival”; security threats posed by Russia; and migration. Albanians still regularly seek refugee status in France despite Albania being considered a safe country.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned in May that any “failure to recognize and respond to objective progress would damage the European Union’s credibility.” She said it could also “undermine stability and seriously discourage further reforms.”
Her warning came just after Serbia put its troops on full alert after heavily armed Kosovo police fired tear gas and arrested about two dozen people in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo in what they called an anti-organized crime operation.
“As I have done elsewhere in my travels in Europe, I also warned of the risks of Chinese investments in sensitive technologies and China’s bribe-heavy strategy to secure infrastructure deals,” Pompeo said after meeting North Macedonian top officials.
“We want North Macedonia to succeed, not struggle with corruption and with debt.”
China includes Balkan countries in its One Belt, One Road project to open up trade links for Chinese companies. It has extended loans worth billions of dollars to build railways, roads, and power plants, mainly using Chinese workers.
Russia, which has strong ties with some of the countries in the region, openly opposes NATO and EU enlargement to the six Western Balkan states.
Roland Freudenstein, policy director of Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the official think tank of the European People’s Party (EPP) told EurActiv that France’s stance “damages the EU’s regional interests” and creates “the danger that these countries are being pushed into the open arms of Russia, China and Turkey if the EU doesn’t show that it is serious about enlargement.”
EurActive also spoke with Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Nathalie Loiseau of political group Renew Europe, who was also Macron’s top candidate in the EU elections. Loiseau said, “At a moment when the UK is leaving, when we need to reform the EU and when a number of member states haven’t yet said how they will be financing the next MFF, are we ready to consider expanding our Union? Really?”
Loiseau also emphasized that thousands of Albanians come to France without visa to seek asylum: “How can we open negotiations with Albania?” she said.
“Either thousands of Albanians deserve refugee status, which in itself questions whether Albania can be an EU candidate. Or human traffickers and the mafia are operating from Albania to Western Europe and encourage illegal migration. Therefore the fight against organized crime needs to be improved in Albania,” Loiseau said.
North Macedonia was granted candidate status in 2005, Albania in 2014.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report