As divisions widen over the bloc’s accession process, the European Commission has sought to heal battle wounds with a new plan to hand Skopje and Tirana the green light for membership negotiations. The draft paper, sparked by a French-led effort to stop the Western Balkan states from joining the EU, set the stage for the next row over the bloc’s future. The Commission is willing to accept “strong calls” for EU capitals in a bid to convince member states to follow-up on enlargement promises.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has listed accession talks for North Macedonia and Albania as a priority for her leadership, whereas her predecessors, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, described Emmanuel Macron’s blockage of talks last year as a “grave mistake”.
A draft paper, due for publication this week, sets out a list of demands that the bloc wants from its Western Balkan applicants.
It also lists the consequences if the two countries fail to meet the tests set out by EU leaders as part of the membership negotiations.
Future talks could be put on hold or suspended as a punishment for failing to live up to the EU’s expectations, according to the plans.
But in a bid not to leave North Macedonia and Albania too despondent, the countries could be given extra incentives for performing well.
Prizes include extra funds and closer integration with EU policy, markets and programmes in the areas where they may have made.
France sparked fury in October by locking the launch of accession talks, with the support of the Netherlands and Denmark.
Paris claimed the countries had not done enough to cut corruption strengthen their rule of law provisions.
North Macedonia’s government now faces staunch opposition from eurosceptics in April’s general elections.
The opponents argue the EU has betrayed the country after it met the bloc’s demands, which included changing its name to smooth a long running dispute with Greece.
Despite rejection, Albanian prime minister Edi Rama praised Mr Macron’s push to reform the accession process.
Mr Rama said it was a “breath of fresh air in a process that seems to be stumbling and seemed to become more and more schizophrenic between technicalities and political decision-making”.
He is hoping changes would bring “more clarity, more fairness, although it may seem and it may be borne out of a long process of deeper and deeper unfairness”.