The French and North Macedonian presidents are due to meet in Paris on Tuesday, weeks after France blocked the start of EU accession talks for the Western Balkan country.
The meeting on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum will give President Stevo Pendarovski the chance to put forward his nation’s case for joining the ladder towards eventual EU membership.
At the last European Council meeting on October 17-18, Emmanuel Macron used France’s veto to prevent Albania and North Macedonia from being given a start date.
France was joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in opposing Tirana’s candidature, but went out on a limb in blocking Skopje.
The French president argues that the EU enlargement process needs an overhaul before talks can begin with prospective new members.
However, both Balkan countries had been encouraged in their efforts to meet EU conditions for membership talks. Macron’s stance has been castigated by other leaders and political commentators. Top European Union officials described it as a historical mistake.
“We must continue to work towards opening negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania to join the EU. Especially since these countries are NATO member states, and this is where our strategic interest in the Transatlantic Alliance also lies,” said Angela Merkel. The German Chancellor added that the issue would be revisited early next year.
The French veto has arguably undermined the pro-EU strategy in countries such as North Macedonia, which was widely praised after the long-running dispute with Greece over its name was resolved.
It has also thrown EU policy over the bloc’s relations with its eastern neighbours into confusion. Concerns have been voiced that if the door to the European Union is slammed shut in those countries, the rule of law could be threatened and they could instead look to Russia for closer ties.
Despite their differences, reports suggested Skopje was looking to take a conciliatory rather than confrontational stance with Paris.
“I am glad that one of our top representatives will finally meet the head of friendly France and will talk about all the arguments,” North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was quoted as saying last week.
The Paris Peace Forum hosted by Emmanuel Macron encourages multilateral cooperation in finding solutions to global challenges amid a fragmented international environment.