Albania and Macedonia have been excited about the prospect of EU membership for a long time, and the way looks like it might be opening up, especially now that Macedonia seems to have resolved a major issue with Greece over its name. But France and the Netherlands, along with Denmark, are the party poopers this year as they are imposing additional demands on the Western Balkan nations to be met before their applications to join the European bloc can be accepted.
LUXEMBOURG — The door to EU membership for Albania and Macedonia remains closed at least until June 2019, but accession is on offer if the countries make progress on reforms, EU ministers decided Tuesday.
During a marathon session of the General Affairs Council, the majority of member countries argued in favor of opening membership talks now but France and Netherlands, with the backing of Denmark, were the main opponents, diplomats said.
The result of all-day discussions was a compromise text where the Council said it agreed to set “out the path towards opening accession negotiations in June 2019.”
However the two countries will have to show progress on making reforms in areas like battling corruption and improving their judicial systems. Those steps will be assessed in a future European Commission report and “depending on progress made” there will be an intergovernmental conference with Albania and Macedonia “by the end of 2019.”
The Commission in April gave its backing to the launch of accession talks and recommended that the Council follow suit, although it too noted some shortfalls in the two countries’ preparations.
The prospects of joining the queue to EU membership opened for Macedonia after it resolved a decades-old dispute about its name with Greece, which had blocked the accession process.
Opening talks would represent a clear indication that the bloc is ready to renew its expansion to the six western Balkan countries.
The language in Tuesday’s declaration allows the pro-EU governments of Macedonia and Albania to tell their citizens that the door to eventual EU membership is open. But for France and the Netherlands, cautious about expanding the EU to new countries, it allows them to say that no final decision has been taken.
The two countries have to show “a track record both in improving the rule of law and fighting organized crime. We’ll look carefully at next year’s Commission report to judge whether we see this progress,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok told reporters at the end of the meeting.
With their applications being suspended for a year over how well they can get a grip on corruption inside their nations, one question that isn’t being answered is whether the Union itself is going to be in a position to offer positive benefits to its members by that time, as it currently stands under threat by the fate of the German political coalition and conflicts between the bloc’s member states over the issue of migration. How will Albania and Macedonia respond to these issues as they and the EU go about solving their respective problems?