The European Parliament President David Sassoli has hit out at the failure to five the green light to EU accession talks starting with Albania and North Macedonia.
North Macedonia, in particular, had strongly lobbied recently for talks to start. But EU leaders at the summit in Brussels failed to agree.
Sassoli, an Italian Socialist, told this website on Friday: “We are deeply disappointed to see that the Council failed to agree on the opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia.”
The Italian added, “Both countries and their citizens have made a huge effort in order to fulfil the requirements for the start of the negotiations.
“This is why I expressed my firm support for the immediate opening of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania in a joint letter with Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen.”
He added, ““When we call on neighbouring countries to make an extra effort to change and they do so, it is our duty to stick to our word.
“It will be hard to explain to the people of those countries why we are delaying the next step despite the progress that has been made,” he warned.
“In a rapidly changing world, a further integration of interested and eligible candidates will help the EU to uphold its international role and protect its interests. We will continue striving for a future with Albania and North Macedonia within the European family.”
The EU had the opportunity, and a strong self-interest, to lock in long-term positive momentum across the Western Balkans by starting negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, but EU leaders failed to agree.
As the President of an EU body representing civil society, I am deeply disappointed to see that the EU failed to respect the engagement taken on EU accession vis-à-vis those two countries and were not able to keep our word and open the accession negotiations.
No doubt, the process of “europeanizing” this troubled region requires tough structural reforms within the countries in the Western Balkans. No doubt, there is a widespread enlargement fatigue among EU citizens in some countries. No doubt, the divide inside the EU on issues such as immigration and the new budget diverted the necessary level of political attention away from the enlargement issue.
But the Western Balkans are a key geostrategic region in our backyard, where other world powers Russia, China,Turkey are just waiting for Brussels to make a faux pas.
North Macedonia and Albania have already fulfilled all the conditions required and that was strongly endorsed by all EU institutions, which proposed to open accession negotiations as did 24 Member States.
An historical mistake has now been made. The EU has put its credibility and reliability at stake by not opening accession negotiations with these two countries. It had the choice to open negotiations while applying rigorous conditionality on good governance, insisting on the strict application of the criteria for membership during the negotiations process and devising better instruments to monitor the rule of law after accession. Instead, it has chosen to keep the door closed.
The EESC will continue working closely and intensively with civil society in the Western Balkans to provide them support and reassure them that their place is in the European Union. We will do whatever we can to promote reconciliation and European values in the region and our position on EU enlargement will remain firm. We are convinced that a clear perspective on accession is essential for the stability of the region.
We are confident that all necessary steps will be taken so that the European Council can adopt a unanimous, positive decision before the EU-Western Balkans in Zagreb in May 2020.