The Finnish Presidency has proposed to postpone the issue of opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia until after the European Council summit of October 17–18. The Summit is expected to deal with a host of pressing issues including Brexit and the climate emergency on the agenda. It is also likely that the Turkish invasion of Rojava in Northern Syria will be discussed.
On October 11, during the preparatory meeting of ambassadors to the EU, France reiterated its position that the EU enlargement process first needs to be reformed before further negotiations can be opened with Western Balkan countries. Previously, the Netherlands had already stated to be in favor of decoupling Albania from North Macedonia, supporting a green light only for the latter.
Also during the meeting yesterday of the EU General Affairs Council, no compromise could be found. The draft conclusions circulated by the Presidency proposed to open accession negotiations with both Albania and North Macedonia. They did not find unanimous support.
In a press conference following the meeting, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn expressed his disappointment, declaring that it “was not a moment of glory for Europe.” Hahn avoided the question whether the Albanian government carried any responsibility for the negative predisposition of France and the Netherlands.
In the conclusions of the General Affairs Council, the Presidency states:
The Presidency recalls the [General Affairs Council conclusions of 18 June 2019 to revert, no later than October 2019, to the issue of the [European] Commission’s recommendations to open accession negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania.
In light of the [General Affairs] Council’s discussion on the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania, the Presidency notes that the [General Affairs] Council will revert to the issue after the European Council on [October 17–18].
The second paragraph suggests that because the General Affairs was unable to reach a consensual conclusion yesterday, the opening of enlargement negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia will not be on the European Council’s agenda tomorrow. The next European Council Summit is on December 12–13.
It may still be possible that the leaders of the EU members come to an agreement during the European Council Summit, although less likely considering the position of France.
The main talking point of the Albanian government in recent weeks has been to blame any lack of progress in EU accession on “internal problems” of the EU. In an ERTV video posted on Facebook, Prime Minister Edi Rama declared that France’s position was not “against Albania or North Macedonia” but concerned its “perspective on the Western Balkans in general.”
I don’t know today how this Odyssey will end on October 18, no one does, but this is what I know for sure and want to share with you today: First, beyond all speculations and lies made for internal consumption in Albania, the decision on October 18 has nothing to do with what we did or didn’t do. […] 2) The decision has a fundamental relation to what they, the EU member states, want or don’t want to do with the reform of the EU and methodology of negotiating with candidate states.
Acting Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Gent Cakaj tweeted yesterday that “Another delay could slow/derail progress & reforms, undermine [EU] credibility & risk boosting strategic rivals in [Western Balkans].”