EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi’s proposal to press ahead with accession talks with Albania but exclude North Macedonia for now has sparked criticism in Austria, with Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg calling the move “absurd.” Read more.
“North Macedonia has changed its name, has implemented tremendous reforms, and I think we have to be very cautious with the signals we are sending,” the minister commented.
Bulgaria is currently blocking accession talks with North Macedonia on the basis of what Sofia sees as anti-Bulgarian policy by Skopje and attempts to steal Bulgarian history.
As North Macedonia and Albania are treated as a group by the EU Commission in their EU accession agenda, Albania has been indirectly affected by the Bulgarian veto. Putting Albania on a separate track would at least not unduly penalise this country.
Various Austrian MEPs from different parties also criticised the step to disassociate Skopje from Tirana. The head of the SPÖ delegation in the European Parliament, Andreas Schieder, rejected the idea and stated that “Várhelyi acts very clumsy” and that “nationalistic interest like the one of Bulgaria must not compromise a common European perspective for the region.”
In a similar vein, conservative MEP Christian Sagartz from the ÖVP argued against a decoupling of the two Balkan countries, while Thomas Waitz of the Green party called Várhelyi’s proposal “not constructive.” He instead called on the European Commission to pressure Bulgaria to lift its current veto on the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia.
Bulgaria is currently in political crisis after attempts to form a government following the 4 April elections failed. President Rumen Radev is to appoint a caretaker cabinet on Tuesday. However, no change of policy towards Skopje is expected.
According to sources, some EU countries think Albania is not yet ready for accession negotiations and find the Bulgarian veto against North Macedonia to be a useful block on the process moving forward.
Meanwhile, Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman believes that the EU should enhance its involvement in the Western Balkans and work on a more coherent and strategic response thereby investing in the stability and security of Europe as a whole.
“The EU should open the accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, but it should also address other challenges in the region, such as reform and legacy of war in Serbia, visa liberalisation with Kosovo, etc,” said Grlić Radman ahead of Monday’s discussion with EU ministers on the topic of the Western Balkans held in Brussels.
Regarding one of the hottest topics on the table, a mysterious non-paper on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia’s top diplomat stressed the concept of maintaining three constituent nations in that country.
“That concept is the key to stability in the region, but also the European path of that country,” said Grlić Radman while acknowledging that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the biggest challenge in the region of the Western Balkans, which is why he considers the amendment to the electoral law as being of utmost value to the country.
(Oliver Noyan | EURACTIV.de, Tea Trubić Macan | EURACTIV.hr)