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Germany urges France to back Balkan EU membership

Germany urges France to back Balkan EU membership
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By Reuters
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By Gabriela Baczynska

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Germany called on France and the Netherlands on Tuesday to allow European Union membership negotiations with Albania and Macedonia to help stabilise the Western Balkans, after EU diplomats failed to agree on the terms of the talks.

Paris and The Hague have held out against a broad EU effort to open negotiations, with France saying the bloc needs to reform its own institutions before accepting new members.

But other states led by Berlin have pushed to bring the six Western Balkan countries into the EU fold to bolster the bloc's influence in the region in the face of an assertive Russia.

"The German government is ready to support Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on their way towards the European Union," Germany's EU minister Michael Roth said as he arrived for a meeting with his counterparts in Luxembourg.

"We are ready to send green light. I would to encourage our friends in the Netherlands and in France to join us," he told reporters, saying that stability was paramount for the Balkans.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia all hope to join the European Union.

While membership talks with Serbia and Montenegro are underway, Albania, which is already a member of NATO, and Macedonia, which has reached an agreement to resolve a dispute over its name with Greece, had hoped to receive the go-ahead on Tuesday.

But EU ambassadors preparing the meeting on Monday evening failed to draw up an agreement for ministers to sign.

France's President Emmanuel Macron, backed by the Netherlands, has said the bloc must first reform itself before taking on new members, although EU diplomats say Paris is mainly concerned about stoking anti-immigrant sentiment at home.

The rushed accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of eastern European workers to Britain, which turned many Britons against the European project, have made so-called EU enlargement more difficult, officials say.

The Dutch parliament has approved opening EU membership talks with Macedonia after an agreement with Greece to change the country's official name from Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Republic of North Macedonia.

But one EU diplomat said the Dutch government is unwilling to move before France does and the issue may have to be decided by EU leaders over dinner in Brussels at a summit on Thursday.

Albania's fate is more complicated, as Paris and The Hague cite what they see as a lack of judicial reforms, endemic corruption and organised crime. The European Commission, the EU executive overseeing membership talks, says Albania and Macedonia have made great progress on the issues.

Many European countries, including Austria which will chair the EU rotating presidency from July, want to send a signal to Albania, Macedonia and other Western Balkan countries that the path to EU membership is still is open, especially as Macedonia looks set to be welcomed into the NATO alliance in July.

"There has been a lot of progress. It only enforces our point that the Western Balkans should have a clear membership perspective," Austria's EU minister Gernot Bluemel said.

(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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