'A grave historic error': Juncker hits out as North Macedonia and Albania have EU bids blocked

Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Emmanuel Macron, and Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel in Brussels on October 18, 2019.
Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Emmanuel Macron, and Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel in Brussels on October 18, 2019. Copyright REUTERS/Toby Melville
Copyright REUTERS/Toby Melville
By Alice TideyLauren Chadwick, Efi Koutsokosta
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Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told Euronews on Friday that his country is "collateral damage" in an intra-EU power struggle.


Albania is the collateral damage of an intra-EU power struggle, its prime minister told Euronews, after the country's bid to open accession talks was blocked

France, Denmark and the Netherlands opposed beginning EU membership discussions with Albania and North Macedonia, according to an EU diplomat.

The blocking of accession talks was made during the two-day European Council summit, which ends today.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said there had been after "a lot of intensity in the debates" but no unanimity on the issue.

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker called it a "grave, historic error" while Donald Tusk urged both countries not to give up.

Albania and North Macedonia submitted their application to join the bloc in 2009 and 2004 respectively and have since taken steps to align themselves more closely with European standards.

North Macedonia also resolved a long-standing name dispute last year with neighbour Greece, which had until then, vetoed any talk of the country joining the bloc.

'We are ready'

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told Euronews on Friday that his country is "collateral damage" in an intra-EU power struggle.

"It is clear there is a large majority that understands it all and there is a smaller (group of) countries that has a different understanding, so it is a fight within different approaches of the EU," he said.

He also stressed that reforms undertaken by the country were not done solely for the purpose of becoming an EU member.

"We don't do it for Europe, we don't do it because someone likes it in Paris or Berlin, or someone wants more somewhere else. We do it for ourselves and our children," he added.

Meanwhile, his North Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, urged EU leaders on Thursday to "not put out the bright star we are striving for."

"We have worked hard and we are ready to work even harder and to face all the challenges that come with the process," he wrote on Twitter.

'Endless soap opera'

But EU membership negotiations can only be launched following a unanimous decision from the bloc's leaders.

France has been the most vocal opponent with European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin telling reporters on Monday following a meeting in Brussels that the bloc should not enter "the endless soap opera" of accession talks until it has reformed its vetting procedure.

An EU diplomat confirmed to Euronews that Denmark and Netherlands were both in favour of opening talks with North Macedonia only.

As such, they are in opposition to the majority of EU countries.

"There are many countries that want to join the EU, and this is great, but we need to have strong rules for this process," said Denmark's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen.


"I also think there is a difference in the preparedness of North Macedonia and Albania to join the EU. Our discussion last night suggested that they should move forward together in the accession talks."

Chancellor Angela Merkel told her parliamentarians on Thursday that the bloc should "keep its promises" and open talks.

"A European prospect is the best way to ensure rule-of-law developments in the two Western Balkan states and thus the best way to ensure prosperity and security within Europe," she said.

Poland's representation in the EU stated on Friday that it "would be a mistake" to not launch membership talks as "North Macedonia and Albania have done what was expected of them at this stage".

"Much is said about the European values and thus it is important for the EU to keep its credibility here," it added.


EU Council President Donald Tusk, Parliament chief David Sassoli, current and incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Ursula von der Leyen, also all came out in favour.

In a joint letter released earlier this month, they wrote that "if the EU is to uphold its international role and protect its interests, taking a step towards integrating those European countries that have expressed an interest and have fulfilled the requirements for starting the accession process will help achieve this".

They also highlighted that "North Macedonia and Albania did what we asked them to do. Achieving that required a significant effort from their citizens, for whom the European perspective has been a great source of motivation and determination."

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