Western Balkans can wait. The European Union is not an affair neither for Albania nor for North Macedonia. The heads of State and governments of the EU Member States weren’t capable of opening the accession talks for the two countries asking to join the European community. It was an unhappy decision the one produced on the occasion of the last European Council meeting. The region is plenty of competitors who have all the interest in not having Albania and Macedonia in the EU, but apparently some leader doesn’t understand. Or he doesn’t care, and it would be even worse.
Serbia is traditionally close to Russia, a player of the international arena interested in not having a united and strong Europe. Turkey as well has strong attentions for the region. The former Yugoslav Republics have been part of the ancient Ottoman empire, and since the dissolution of Yugoslavia has started to sign bilateral agreements, mainly of trade nature. Europe had the opportunity to bring two more countries in its influence sphere. Unfortunately both Albania and North Macedonia are now left to make their own consideration on the reliability of the (supposed) European partner.
Italians got furious
Italy was among the most irritated Member States. “The debate on enlargement went bad”, pointed out the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte last Friday (18 October). “We had a date with history, and we made an historical mistake. In XV century these countries fell under Ottoman empire, after WWII fell under communists. They have been asking to join Europe since long time”.
The Italian government has a long tradition in relations with Albania. The Balkan country is considered as strategic by the national authorities, who hoped to can speed up the access process for Tirana. The special attention reserved by Italy to Albania is explained by economic reasons, of course. There are more than 6,000 foreign enterprises in Albania. Italy and Greece account for about 54% of total number of such companies.
The reason why Italy pays so much attention to Albania is also for social reasons. The Albanian community in the country is one of the biggest ones, counting about 100,000 people. In 1999 Italy passed a bill which recognizes and protects the Albanian language.
The European Parliament against the Council
The missed opportunity to stat talks with Albania and North Macedonia sparked outrage in the European Parliament. “On these files the position of the institution is to open negotiations”, stressed the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. “When we call on neighbouring countries to make an extra effort to change and they do so, it is our duty to match this effort”. Together with the presidents of the political groups decided to hold a debate on enlargement in the last Plenary session (21-24 October).
Everybody was united in blaming the Council (and France, who vetoed more than all the others the start of talks). “The decision on Albania and North Macedonia sends a very worrying message”, denounced the co-president of the Greens, Philippe Lamberts. “We asked North Macedonia to change its name and now the doors of EU have been slammed on its face. We are losing credibility”, complained the president of the EPP group, Mandred Weber. “We cannot be a strong Europe without being an open Europe, open to our neighbors, especially those who believe in Europe”, the judgment of Dacial Ciolos, Romanian, president of the RE group. Brando Benifei (S&D) talked about “disappointing conclusions from the European Council meeting”.
The European Parliament is basically asking the Member States to reconsider their position. It is conviction of the directly-elected EU institution that Albania and North Macedonia should be allowed to start negotiations. Otherwise these country could finish into the sphere of influence of other players.
Second failure in two years
The Juncker Commission called twice for starting accession talks with the two candidate countries. A first official request was made in April 2018, but in that case the Council rejected the proposal. The second official call come earlier this year, at the end of May. Once again the Member States weren’t able to give the green light, showing the deep division between the different EU institutions.