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Old 10-13-2019, 12:38 PM   #14
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Macron Seeks to Slow EU Expansion in Blow to Balkan Aspirations

October 13, 2019, 8:14 AM EDT


- France resists accession talks with Albania, North Macedonia
- EU nations remain split ahead of decision due on Tuesday

Balkan hopes of starting accession negotiations with the European Union hang in the balance, as France insists the bloc is not yet ready to discuss the possibility of accepting new members, documents exchanged between diplomatic missions in Brussels show.

North Macedonia and Albania are keen for a green light this week to start formal talks to join the world’s largest trading club. While most member states back their request, France and the Netherlands want a complete overhaul of the enlargement process before negotiations with the two countries can begin.

Paris wants any further talks to be “more gradual, more concrete in the benefits they bring to concerned countries and reversible according to the effective, tangible and sustainable implementation of reforms,” a draft communique of a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg showed. The memo was circulated on Oct. 10 by French diplomats to other EU governments.

No date for formal negotiations should be given to Albania and North Macedonia before the EU completes this overhaul of its “methodology,” it said.

Expansion proponents argue that the prospect of EU membership will help further anchor the troubled region to the West, while failure to set a date for the start of formal negotiations risks weakening reformist forces in Albania and North Macedonia.

But western EU officials exasperated by the failure of eastern nations that joined in 2004 and 2007 to uphold the rule of law and fight corruption are wary of admitting new members.

At Loggerheads

Countries including Poland, Hungary and Romania -- among the largest recipients of EU structural funds and agricultural aid -- are at loggerheads with the European Commission over their democratic standards, and the bloc’s executive arm has so far failed to force them to fall in line.

At France’s insistence, the EU said in its June communique on the topic of enlargement that admission of new members should take into account the bloc’s “capacity to integrate” them.

France and the Netherlands aren’t alone in their skepticism. Adding to the complications, countries such as Greece and Bulgaria cite bilateral issues that first need to be resolved, while others seek conditions attached to any positive nod, especially for Albania.

EU ambassadors will make a last-ditch effort to broker a compromise on Monday before ministers meet in Luxembourg on Tuesday, where a decision is due to be taken. EU leaders must sign off when they meet in Brussels on Thursday.

The latest draft of the decision, dated Oct. 11 and seen by Bloomberg, gives a green light for formal accession negotiations to start in the first half of next year, but “no one is happy” with the wording, according to one diplomat familiar with the deliberations.

Last edited by Carlin15; 10-13-2019 at 12:50 PM.
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