EU diplomats on Friday said France plans to block the start of EU membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, with the bloc’s European Affairs ministers due to decide on the issue.
A decision not to launch negotiations would likely deal a blow to the two Balkan countries after the European Commission found earlier in 2019 that they had done the necessary work to take forward their EU accession bid.
The European Union’s enlargement policy serves as a tool to encourage neighbouring states to carry out pro-democratic reforms, offering the prospect of membership in return.
But Paris argues that the reform efforts of both countries are not sufficient and are demanding a fundamental overhaul of the accession process as a precondition for talks to begin, according to diplomatic sources.
Among other things, France reportedly views the process as too technical and hard to stop if circumstances deteriorate. A French veto would put the country on a collision course with Germany and other member states who believe the time is right to launch negotiations.
Earlier, top EU officials including European Council President Donald Tusk and incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen argued that the issue was a test of the Union’s ability to deliver on its promises and look to the future.
In particular, proponents argue that North Macedonia should be rewarded for making huge strides by settling a name dispute last year with neighbouring Greece.
“Nothing will be won by another postponement, but much can be lost by creating a strategic vacuum in the south-east of Europe,’’ a diplomatic source in Brussels said.