EU Enlargement Freeze: Macron Rejects Talks With Balkan Hopefuls

Written by | Friday, October 25th, 2019

French President Emmanuel Macron vetoed, at a Brussels summit last week, the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The French leader was alone in torpedoing North Macedonia’s aspirations and was backed only by the leaders of Denmark and the Netherlands in rejecting Albania. His resolute opposition to the enlargement of the European Union has won him an unlikely comparison with the US president when these days many in the Balkans call him “the European Trump”.
Immediately denounced as a “historic mistake” by European Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker, Macron defended his decision by arguing that the bloc should focus on getting its own house in order first before considering new members. “This is a dispute about vision,” Macron said. “The enlargement rules need reform.” French elites have traditionally conceived Europe in terms of concentric circles, which Macron clearly shares, in which Eastern Europeans are welcome to do business and cooperate with the EU, but they do not belong to the “truly European” inner circle. In line with this view and looming Brexit, Macron would like to adapt a blueprint, earlier laid out by his predecessor President Mitterrand, for the 21st century European Union.
In a series of speeches, Macron already presented this vision that is based on a three-tier Europe model: An inner circle consisting of a palpably strengthened Eurozone, a second circle that is made up of EU members in a strong single market and a much-less-integrated outer circle that is “a union of values, democratic principles and economic freedoms”, which may sooner or later include even Turkey and Russia. The reason for Macron’s apparent mission to bring the EU’s enlargement to a grinding halt is simple: He believes EU’s expansion has failed to bring the desired results.
By blocking the membership bids of North Macedonia and Albania, Macron took the first step towards achieving his great vision of a lean and mean EU, with Germany as the economic powerhouse and Macron’s France as the strategic leader, with Poland, Hungary and Romania and the likes on the sidelines clustered around the Eurozone and the Balkan states lingering in the waiting room. His move, however, already brought into question the very future of the EU and the stability of the continent. This has brought Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner, who has led efforts to push both North Macedonia and Albania to reform to be eligible for EU accession, to denounce Macron’s policy for damaging the bloc’s credibility “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond”.

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