Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday he is ready to lift French opposition to the opening of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.
"We are all awaiting a report from the European Commission in March on the two countries," the French president said at the annual Munich security conference.
“We have to see what the Commission is going to say about the state of the expected progress,” he added and, “if the results are positive and confidence is established, we then we should be able to open negotiations.”
Macron acidly remarked that France was not the only country to have blocked the countries’ accession following a European Council summit last October.
“I salute the great courage which consists in hiding behind France when there is a disagreement but I can tell you that several states were against the opening of negotiations with Macedonia and Albania," Macron said — without referring to Denmark and the Netherlands by name.
Amelie de Montchalin, France's European affairs minister explained the decision by saying there needed to be reform in how candidate countries are vetted on EU targets on subjects including economic policy, human rights, and the rule of law. She called the previous EU enlargement process "an endless soap opera" that needed to be more efficient.
Jean-Claude Juncker, then EU chief, said at the time that Macron’s stance was a "grave, historic error” while top EU enlargement negotiator Johannes Hahn said the blockage was “not a moment of glory for Europe."
The delay was poorly received not only in Tirana and Skopje but also in Berlin, with Germany remaining favourable to the enlargement of the EU in the Balkans.
The European Commission recently submitted a stricter and reversible EU accession procedure to meet the conditions set by France ahead of a summit on the Balkans in May.
Paris is also awaiting a report on the reality of the reforms requested by France, the Netherlands and Denmark. The subject is to be discussed by the 27 EU countries on February 25 during a meeting EU EU ministers in Brussels.
In addition to North Macedonia and Albania, four other countries in the Western Balkans — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia — aspire to join the EU.