By Alan Charlish and Andreas Rinke
POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) – Poland and Germany on Friday called for continued progress on European Union membership talks for western Balkan states hoping to join the bloc, rejecting France’s position that it shouldn’t accept more members until it handles its own issues.
“I share (French) President Macron’s view that the EU’s working mechanisms must be improved,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference concluding the Western Balkan summit in Poznan, Poland.
“I don’t see that as an abandonment of the accession talks.”
EU governments failed in June to make good on a promise to open membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, which face further delays to their hopes of joining the bloc due to resistance from northern Europe.
The 28 EU states have agreed to take “a clear and substantive decision” on the two hopefuls no later than October, but Macron insisted that first the bloc needs to find better mechanisms for finding agreement among its current members.
“I look with optimism to autumn,” Merkel said, referring to North Macedonia.
The bloc faced unprecedented days-long negotiations this week in an effort to decide on candidates for the EU’s top jobs.
However, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn told Reuters he believed it would not be right to stop accession talks.
“When our partner countries deliver, the EU also has to deliver. That is a question of the credibility of the EU,” Hahn said.
“We must leave no vacuum in this region by hesitant behaviour, which would certainly not be used by our competitors such as Russia, Turkey or China in our interest.”
Friday’s summit in Poland brought together leaders from a handful of EU member countries including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and many Western Balkan countries seeking to eventually join the bloc.
Polish President Andrzej Duda scolded other EU members for delaying accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, days after the EU’s current eastern European members lost out in a carve-up of its top jobs.
“The European Union shouldn’t treat countries this way when they are carrying out difficult reforms aimed at future integration,” Duda told a Western Balkans summit in Poznan.
He said these countries had fulfilled many requirements to facilitate talks.
North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the country was ready to take the necessary steps to convince sceptical EU countries of the value of enlargement.
“Reform-wise we hope to persuade France and the remainder of the European Union member states towards a positive decision and granting us to the accession negotiations. This is what I appeal for through dialogue, through discussion,” Zaev said.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Andreas Rinke; Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Agnieszka Barteczko and Hugh Lawson)