EU Presses Case for France to End Veto on Two Balkan Countries

Jonathan Stearns

(Bloomberg) -- European Union President Charles Michel sought to build momentum toward lifting a French veto on membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

Michel hosted a dinner in Brussels on Sunday for top representatives of western Balkan countries including North Macedonia and Albania. Last October, France blocked the EU’s goal of starting accession talks with both nations during the first half of 2020, insisting on tougher scrutiny to ensure their respect for the rule of law.

To address the French concerns, the European Commission proposed changes 11 days ago to the way the EU vets aspiring members by giving more weight to “fundamentals,” including the functioning of the judicial system and democratic institutions. The commission, the EU’s executive arm, wants the green light for entry talks with North Macedonia and Albania to come by a May 6-7 summit in Zagreb, Croatia.

“It’s an important meeting in the perspective of the Zagreb summit,” Michel told reporters before the dinner. “The European perspective for these countries is very important.”

The EU is seeking to revive the longstanding membership hopes of North Macedonia and Albania in an effort to avoid political instability in a region still scarred by the Yugoslav civil war in the 1990s. The bloc also wants to prevent a political vacuum that could play into the hands of Russia and China.

“It’s in our common geostrategic interest to have the western Balkans as close as possible to the European Union,” commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters on Sunday. “We want also to pave the way for North Macedonia and Albania to start the accession talks.”

Three other countries in the region have started EU membership negotiations: Serbia in 2014, Montenegro in 2012 and Turkey in 2005.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Stearns in Brussels at jstearns2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Tony Czuczka

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