Ten days ago Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev went to Mutti Merkel to seek her support in trying to untangle the eternal name dispute with Greece, a mess that has for many years prevented his country from joining NATO and starting EU accession negotiations.
It’s always nice for a Balkan leader to be photographed next to Mutti but Zaev expected more.
He is sometimes referred to as the Macron of the Balkans, as a way to compliment him. He is, in fact, something of an accident of history: a decent and open-minded politician wishing the best for his country.
So Zaev, the nice gentleman, got the family photos but no commitments. This is despite the fact that, on the other side of the border, there is a Greek prime minister who also believes it is time to solve an issue harming his country’s reputation in its NATO and EU family. Alexis Tsipras is also a big accident of history.
But the risk that this “window of opportunity” will not be used is quite big. Bigger than 50%, in any case. And who knows when the stars will align next time?
The official reason why Merkel doesn’t want to get involved is that the effort to solve the name dispute is a UN-led process. But the real reason is that the European People’s Party (EPP), her European political family, doesn’t want to make presents to Zaev, a social democrat, or to Tsipras, a Syriza left-winger.
Incidentally, why is the EU so sympathetic to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, despite his closeness to Russia? Because he’s EPP. “It’s all very ideological,” said a source with excellent knowledge of the EU’s cuisine.
Moreover, EPP is not at all excited by messages suggesting the Western Balkans could join the EU in a foreseeable future. Juncker’s spokespersons will not confirm it, but he has been under fire for suggesting that 2025 could be the date any and all Western Balkan countries could join the EU (provided they are ready and in full compliance).
But offences do not stop there. Bulgaria now holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU and its Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is convening on 17 May a Western Balkans summit in Sofia, with the participation of the leaders of all 28 member countries and of the six Western Balkan states.
Borissov is the only one who broke ranks with the EPP discipline. Reportedly, Merkel is mad at him for having pushed for the Western Balkans summit, but also forpositioning himself as “the Merkel of the Balkans”, as Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (a socialist) called him in London at an EBRD event last Monday.
Thanks to the EU Presidency, Western Balkan leaders can now present Borissov to their audiences as the incarnation of the European Union.
Borissov has said the EU can replace the UK with the Western Balkans. It may sound like nonsense, but Bulgaria’s strongman speaks a language of the street – which is also their language. No one ever spoke to the Balkan leaders like this and they seem to like it.
In the absence of Merkel, Balkan leaders embrace her surrogate.
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By Alexandra Brzozowski
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