European Council’s recent negative decision on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and eventually Albania, due to strong opposition by France, has jeopardized the credibility of the enlargement policy and the global credibility of the European Union as such. The failure to open accession negotiations after a candidate country had delivered reforms required by the EU has seriously undermined reform efforts, not only in North Macedonia and Albania but in the entire Western Balkans. This put wind in the sails of the forces that oppose accountability of elites, rule of law and changing the status quo in the WB. The EU’s message should have been completely different.Today the trend of renationalization of the enlargement policy has reached new levels and the enlargement, once known as “the most successful EU policy”, will be influenced by EU member states’ internal political processes more than ever. Additionally, the role and importance of the Commission as the protector of EU interests is being reduced even further. The history of EU enlargement has examples of such a behavior in the 1960s and 1980s, however this was not the case with the 2004 enlargement that turned the EU into a real global player.
Currently, any EU member state can block the enlargement on 76 occasions. If 76 steps are not enough to improve things in the WB, having 85 or 100 would hardly make a difference. The issue of blocking the process should be tackled. All countries have submitted membership applications and the EU has committed itself to that end. The EU intends to be a geopolitical player and have a strong global voice. It would fail in that attempt if it cannot deliver its promise in the WB, the region that is the most open to the EU and aspires to its membership. Secondly, enlargement requires an intensified political and financial engagement and unambiguous messages by the EU, as well as political leadership and vision on both sides – the EU and WB. Enlargement has made the EU great and enabled its deeper integration. Thirdly, rule of law must remain the pivotal issue and the EU should state this message loud and clear to the public in the WB, rather than delivering it to elites behind closed doors. Elites that fail to share and promote these values should be openly named. The EU must show that there will be no negotiations on fundamental values, since such impression has been made on numerous occasions. This will enhance its credibility as global promoter of democracy and rule of law, and once implemented in the WB, it will instigate good news, rather than (WB) migrants, to start coming from the WB. Enlargement to the WB can be the EU’s finest hour in the upcoming decade, or it can be the sunset of its global aspirations.
Text was originally published at The Berlin Process: Information and Resource Centre, Nov. 8, 2019