The EU is set to propose ways to modify the accession procedures for countries entering the bloc in a bid to placate France, but Brussels cautioned Tuesday (4 February) that any changes won’t be major ones.
On Wednesday the European Commission is set to unveil proposals to modify the accession process, a project set in motion after Paris blocked the opening of membership negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania, angering many of its EU partners.
But an EU spokeswoman said there would be no major changes to the conditions of accession, ruling out any alteration of the relevant EU treaty.
France unleashed a wave of disappointment throughout the Balkans by leading a small group of member states opposing the opening of talks, despite a decision by the commission that the countries were ready.
“What we are going to propose tomorrow is to make the negotiating process more credible,” EU spokeswoman Ana Pisonero told reporters.
“We are not going to propose changing the conditions to join the EU. These conditions are very clear, they’re set out in the treaties,” she added
The proposals on Wednesday will attempt to make the process “more predictable” and “dynamic” without changing the rules, she said.
French European Affairs Minister Amélie de Montchalin on Monday said Paris was seeking a more “gradual process” for accession, including a system that was “reversible”.
The minister said that Wednesday’s announcement “will show that we have a change of methodology and paradigm in all these areas.”
EU leaders in June failed to greenlight the accession talks, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
Most of the shock involved North Macedonia, which underwent a painful process of changing its name to end a row with Greece on the belief that the move would open up the EU accession negotiations.
Germany has led efforts to get the Balkan accession process back on track.
On a visit to Brussels, German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth said he hoped the countries would get the long-frustrated greenlight in March to begin accession talks, given their “achievements”.
That is when the European Commission is due to publish an individual report for each of the six Western Balkan candidate countries — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia.
These will assess the state of reforms needed to launch the talks: respect for the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and fundamental rights.
‘Rules should not be changed’
Roth said that the EU states had already “significantly changed” the accession procedure.
Recent changes stipulated that official talks must start with the “most difficult files such as the rule of law, democracy, the fight against corruption and an independent judiciary,” Roth said.
Roth also underlined the possibility of suspending accession negotiations through a unanimous decision by member states. This had been done in the case of Turkey, for example.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, in January made it clear that her teams did not want to create new hurdles for the two Western Balkan countries.
For Albania and Northern Macedonia “the conditions or rules should not be changed now”, she said.
Asked if Wednesday’s proposal would be enough to turn the French around, an EU diplomat said:
“The commission has built France a solid bridge. We are counting on Paris to join the EU consensus now and pave the way for the start of accession talks.”