Sunday, 15 July 2018 | News today: 0

Macron pours cold water on Balkan EU membership hopes

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French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday sounded a skeptical note on enlarging the European Union to include countries from the western Balkans — at a summit meant to strengthen ties between the region and the EU, Politico writes.

Macron’s comments come as a particular disappointment to Albania and Macedonia, which are hoping for the green light from EU leaders next month to begin talks to join the bloc, having received the thumbs-up from the European Commission in April.

“What we’ve seen over the past 15 years is a path that has weakened Europe every time we think of enlarging it. And I don’t think we do a service to the candidate countries or ourselves by having a mechanism that in a way no longer has rules and keeps moving toward more enlargement,” Macron told reporters at the summit in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

“I am in favor of anchoring the Balkans in Europe and moving toward Europe. But I think we need to look at any new enlargement with a lot of prudence and rigor,” Macron said.

“I am not in favor of moving toward enlargement before having all the necessary certainty and before having made a real reform to allow a deepening and better functioning of the European Union.”

The Balkans have moved back up the EU’s agenda as leaders have become alarmed at the influence of other powers on its southern flank, particularly Russia. The 2015 migration crisis — in which hundreds of thousands entered the EU via the western Balkan route — also provided a stark reminder of the region’s importance to the bloc’s own stability.

But EU members are divided over whether to declare that all six western Balkan countries at the summit — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia — can one day join the bloc. They also differ on the potential timeline for accepting new members from the region.

Serbia and Montenegro are already in membership talks and the Commission has suggested they could join the EU by 2025 — a target regarded with considerable skepticism by some officials in Brussels and EU governments.