For or against opening accession talks with North Macedonia?

skopje north macedonia opening accession talks with the EU enlargement neighbourhood policy western balkans
Numéro 1

Learn the ropes

What are the accession talks?
Accession talks, or negotiations, are the second out of 3 steps towards joining the European Union. First, a country must achieve a certain level of development to become an official candidate to the EU. Once the application is officially submitted, the EU can support the candidate country financially in order to achieve the necessary economic and/or political reforms.

The accession talks can start only after an unanimous decision of the European Council, which means that all the EU Member States must agree on opening the talks. During this negotiation period, the candidate country must implement 35 chapters of the acquis communautaire, which are the current EU rules. There is no expiration date for the negotiations: they can last as long as it’s needed for the country, and they can be suspended by a decision of the EU Council.

Sources: European Commission, Toute l’Europe

What is the current status of North Macedonia?
North Macedonia has been a candidate country to the EU since December 2005, when the European Council recognized its application and granted North Macedonia the candidate status after it fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria (which are the criteria defining if a country is eligible to join the EU). The country has made several political and economical reforms to comply with the EU expectations and it received development aid from the Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance.

For several years, any progress in the country’s application was compromised by the ongoing naming dispute between Greece and North Macedonia, which was at the time called the Republic of Macedonia. This dispute was settled by signing the Prespa agreement in June, 2018, which changed the name of the Republic of Macedonia to the current Republic of North Macedonia.

Sources: Reuters, Politico

Why do we talk about it today?
This topic is an important debate for the European Union, as the Republic of North Macedonia settled the dispute with Greece and changed its name in order to comply with the EU requirements: indeed, the EU expects any candidate of the Western Balkans to have good relationships with its neighbors. After signing the Prespa agreement, the country expected an opening of the negotiation talks.

However, the European Council did not agree on opening the talks. France and the Netherlands opposed this measure, calling on internal EU reforms first. Also, it was proposed to discuss the enlargement with two countries, North Macedonia and Albania, which is an important point of disagreement among EU Member States.

Currently, this topic is still a topic of debate, as EU Member States (and notably Germany) are seeking a compromise in the European Council.

Sources: Reuters, Radio Free Europe

Numéro 2

Choose your side

The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.
What is your opinion before reading the article?


FOR

Small step for the EU, great step for the candidate country



Sena Maric Serbia senior researcher european policy centre north macedonia opening negociation talks EU western balkans

Sena Maric

Programme Manager & Senior Researcher, European Policy Center Belgrade

cep.org.rs



I am in favour of opening accession talks with Macedonia, because this small step in the EU accession process has an enormous impact on the motivation of the candidate country to pursue EU-related transformative processes happening at the moment.

Member states have an array of options to test the candidate’s progress and preparedness

First, the readers should be aware that opening of accession talks is indeed a very small, symbolic step in the very complex EU accession process, which has seen many updates vis-à-vis the Western Balkans, compared to the previous enlargement rounds. The bar for EU membership has never been as high as it is the case today, so the candidate country really needs time and efforts to prove it is ready to join the bloc. Namely, when a candidate country opens the accession talks, there is a lot of work to be done in order to become a member – it needs to open and successfully close all 35 negotiating chapters. The EU member states are the ones who have a final say whether the country has fulfilled the conditions for opening and closing the chapters. If you multiply the number of 35 chapters with 28 member states, you can see how vast the space is for the member states to potentially slow down or bloc the whole process. Not to mention other possible hurdles, such as the “safeguard clause” which can be applied if the candidate country does not perform well in the rule of law, leading to temporary suspension of accession negotiations. In short, the member states have an array of options at their disposal to test the candidate’s progress and preparedness in EU accession process, and opening of accession talks is just a first step in that respect.

Second, the readers should be aware that opening of accession talks does not automatically imply that the candidate country will join the EU. It will join the EU only if the member states assess that it is ready and if all EU member states agree. EU has not promised to North Macedonia or the entire Western Balkans the EU membership, it has only committed to “European perspective” phrase, which is much less than a membership promise.

Current state of affairs seem convenient only for the problematic political leadership in other countries of the region

On the other side, opening of accession talks has a great symbolic value for the candidate country. It represents an acknowledgement for all hard work and bold decision making in the last two years, and North Macedonia should be praised and rewarded for that. Macedonia has initiated reforms and the momentum has been created to make them long-term and irreversible. With such turn of events, the current leadership of the country can lose support since it has not delivered progress in EU accession path. EU is losing its credibility with constant postponing of opening negotiations purely for internal political reasons. The blocking member states should assume greater responsibility for that and explain to their electorate that opening of accession negotiations is basically not a big deal, as explained above. Otherwise, the current state of affairs seem convenient only for the problematic political leadership in other countries of the region, who have seen that pursuing the reforms in the name of advancing their countries in EU integration process would only make their political life shorter.

AGAINST

You do not invite guests into a house in a mess, and today, the EU is in a mess

nathalie loiseau north macedonia negociation talks western balkans MEP la république en marche

Nathalie Loiseau

MEP for La République en Marche, former French Minister for European Affairs

europarl.europa.eu



Historically, geographically and culturally the Balkans are part of Europe. So, what are we waiting for to let them join the European Union? 

It would be unrealistic to further enlarge the EU before it reforms itself first

First of all, we need to clean up our house: you do not invite guests into a house in a mess, and today, the European Union is in a mess. Brexit is not over, divisions between nationalists and progressives are increasing, and governing the 28-member Europe is attempting the impossible. So, it would be unrealistic to further enlarge the EU before it reforms itself first. Regarding the countries which are knocking on the door, their applications must be examined based on their individual merit. I do not believe that the integration process of countries of ex-Yugoslavia should be done as a whole. 

If the 27 Member States have different views on the EU enlargement, they all agree on reinforcing the partnership with the countries of Western Balkans, and on further helping them in the integration process. We have many interests and projects in common with these States, such as the fight against illicit traffic of small arms, or the Erasmus + exchange program. 

North Macedonia reconciled with its neighbors, which is a very positive step. Now, we are waiting for the country to start a determined fight against corruption, and for a good governance and respect of the rule of law. We are trustful in Macedonians and their will to carry out this fight. In order to do so, we need to widen our partnership with North Macedonia and with all Balkan countries to help those, who wish to bring the EU and their countries closer, as well as to fight against the centrifugal tendencies or old demons. 

Setting dates in advance does not make sense, we are only in the beginning of the reform process

North Macedonia now wants to progress on the reforms it started, and asks to be encouraged by opening the accession talks with the EU. But setting dates in advance does not make sense. I sincerely hope that when the time comes, we will be able to open the negotiation talks, when both sides will be ready. But we are only in the beginning of the reform process. 

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