North Macedonia’s president has warned the European Union that the failure to bring the nations of the Western Balkans into the European bloc will lead to rising populism and nationalism and raises the chance of economic turmoil in the region.
Stevo Pendarovski told Euronews the EU needed to move beyond rhetoric and “do something” to resolve North Macedonia’s stalled accession process, which is currently on hold due to objections from Bulgaria. He warned that if the EU appeared disengaged, other countries would step in.
"When you are absent, then the strategic void will be filled by somebody else,” he said.
Pendarovski did not name Russia and China but said “everybody knows whom we are speaking about” and mentioned specifically COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy.
Russia has sent millions of doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to the Balkans as European vaccine exports have stalled.
North Macedonia has also ordered 200,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and was given Sputnik V by Serbia. Vaccination programmes have been slow in Western European nations and exports to the Balkans have been minimal.
Meanwhile, negotiations over Montenegro, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia’s membership of the EU have languished as voices in Brussels, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have pushed back against admitting more countries into the bloc.
In some cases, Western Balkan nations have already made significant reforms in order to improve their chances, with North Macedonia even changing its name when Athens objected to it being called Macedonia, as Greece has a province of the same name.
“I am not asking for the immediate membership,” Pendarovski said,
“I am asking for the right shares to start the process. It’s going to [last] years and years and we should together resolve all of these obstacles along the road, but certainly is not a good policy to say [that] out of six countries in the western Balkan region, two of them, Albania, Macedonia, are still waiting to start negotiations."