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Small step for the EU, great step for the candidate country
Programme Manager & Senior Researcher, European Policy Center Belgrade
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.
You do not invite guests into a house in a mess, and today, the EU is in a mess
MEP for La République en Marche, former French Minister for European Affairs
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.