EU betrayed North Macedonia over bid to join bloc before Von der Leyen visit to Balkans

Von der Leyen slams 'unacceptable' treatment of France

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Ms Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, toured the region this week. The Brussels chief said on Tuesday that the EU hoped to launch accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia before the end of the year. Speaking from the Albanian capital, Tirana, she said: “We’ve asked a lot of you, and you have delivered. “We will do everything to overcome the hurdles we have at the moment that should not hinder the enlargement process.

“I really want to bring this process forward so that we can start before the end of the year.”

Albania and North Macedonia’s EU accession bids are linked and launching negotiations with the two nations must be backed by all EU member states.

Bulgaria has blocked North Macedonia joining the EU on cultural and historical grounds.

Its veto means that Albania’s tied EU accession bid is also unable to proceed.

In October 2019, France also blocked the launch of negotiations between Brussels and the two Western Balkan nations.

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France’s opposition to talks, pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron, sparked a furious response in North Macedonia and the wider region.

Croatia’s foreign minister Gordan Grlić Radman was among those to hit out at France’s decision.

The politician, whose country took over the EU’s rotating presidency on January 1 last year, said North Macedonia had met all the conditions for entering a dialogue with Brussels.

This included ending a nearly 30-year name dispute with Greece, resulting in the country being renamed the Republic of North Macedonia in February 2019.

The naming dispute had previously dashed the country’s hopes of joining the EU and the NATO security alliance.

Mr Radman said: “Now is it correct and fair? They made a lot of efforts.

“The people in North Macedonia were not happy with this change of name … And now the cold shower. They lost from all sides, they feel betrayed.”

North Macedonia and Albania’s fellow western Balkan nations are Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.

The six countries are all at different stages in their attempts to secure EU membership.

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Internal EU opposition and Brexit have delayed their bids to join the trading bloc in recent years.

Mr Macron previously argued that the EU enlargement process is not transparent and should be reformed.

The French President has called for a new provision so that countries deemed by the EU to have reneged on their commitments to the rule of law can have their applications reversed.

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hit out at Mr Macron over France’s veto of EU talks and his proposed overhaul of the accession process.

Speaking to Politico in November 2019, he said: “We are still disappointed, angry and a little bit frustrated, because we got a promise from the European Union that when we deliver, they would deliver — and they failed.

“Macron argued the EU must reform itself before adding new members and called for an overhaul of the accession process.”

He added that he and other leaders in the Balkans had worked hard to ensure that the region did not once again see the kind of tensions that sparked several wars there in the wars in the nineties.
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