After intense and protracted debate, European Union leaders have failed to reach any agreement on the future bloc accession of North Macedonia and Albania, not even able to craft an official statement encouraging either country to pursue membership.
EU Council President Donald Tusk said the bloc's leaders made a "mistake" in failing to approve membership talks for the two countries, while EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said it was a "historic error".
French President Emmanuel Macron was a fervent opponent of membership talks, in the face of voluble support from European Council President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Conversely, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte supported a ‘third way’ compromise that would allow talks to begin with North Macedonian leaders while compelling Albania to wait longer.
"I think we have to reform this procedure, which is irreversible, not progressive and has not adapted. We do things that are bizarre…We give visa liberalization, the right to move freely between our countries, before we even open the negotiations,” Macron fulminated.
Deeply disappointed that EU Ministers at #GAC unable to agree on opening negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. They fulfilled the conditions, EU should not hesitate. Accession process is best tool we have to influence developments in WB. Why are we tying our own hands?— Miroslav Lajčák (@MiroslavLajcak) October 15, 2019
As a result of this “bizarre” relationship, Macron said he struggled to tell the French "everything’s going so well we’re going to open negotiations” with Albania, when "thousands and thousands and thousands" of Albanians ask for asylum in his country. He nonetheless insisted he wished to send a positive signal to leaders of North Macedonia and Albania, and agreed with Merkel the Balkans were of great strategic importance to Brussels - but nonetheless said the EU needed more time to get its own house in order before considering further expansion.
“Europe is a big and beautiful house, which we live in together. A few years ago, a member of the family decided to leave and it's a lot of trouble for them to leave the house. And we sometimes have trouble renovating the house, to repair the lights, the electricity. And by the way, a lot of members, when you ask them, 'are you ready to invest to repair the lights, to redo the door?' they say, 'no, I'm not'. But the same people sometimes say, even though we don't know how people can leave, or how to renovate, we want to invite in new friends,” he lamented.
The 2003 European Council summit in Thessaloniki set integration of the Western Balkans as a priority for EU expansion - Slovenia, the first former Yugoslavian constituent country to obtain independence, joined the bloc in 2004, followed by Croatia in 2013. Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro are all candidate states, with Montenegro and Serbia in negotiations. Bosnia and Herzegovina has applied but is not yet recognised as a candidate while Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is not recognised by all EU states. It was originally projected that talks with North Macedonia and Albania would start by the end of 2019, with a tentative joining date of 2025.