French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau warned Macedonia that it may be left without an invitation to begin EU accession talks this summer. Loiseau welcomed the fact that the Macedonian Government accepted to change the name of the country under Greek pressure, but underlined that it is not enough to open accession talks and that Macedonia will have to meet strict reform criteria as well.

In an interview with MIA, Loiseau says that “North Macedonia” can open accession talks only if all criteria are met, but also makes a point previously raised by French President Emmanuel Macron, that the European Union is in need of internal reforms first, before it can think about adding new members. Macron has warned against watering down the EU too much by enlarging it toward new countries before the existing members can build deeper institutional links.

France and the Netherlands were the most outspoken opponents of the opening of EU accession talks with Macedonia last summer. Then the European Council decided to postpone the decision for June 2019 when the report card of Macedonia will be examined. Minister Loiseau raised concerns over the state of corruption in Macedonia, but also over the rampant reports of nepotism in the public sector in the past months.

The enlargement is criteria based and reforms in North Macedonia must continue, in the economy, in the fight against corruption and in the rule of law. It will be a very bad service to the EU and to North Macedonia, as well as to our joint interests, if things develop otherwise, the French Minister said.

Loiseau called for patience until the EU has time to evaluate that Macedonia has really implemented reforms, beyond merely passing laws, and has raised specific concerns such as the long delay in the appointment of the Anti-Corruption Commission. She would not respond positively to a question whether the country would be allowed to open accession talks as things stand now.

There is very little time left and North Macedonia has to implement many necessary reforms. We will particularly pay attention to the law against discrimination which is an obligation to show respect for European rights and freedoms. The Government must also take action against nepotism and corruption, Loiseau added.

Asked about the proposal made by Macedonian Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska, that Macedonian forces join in EU led military missions abroad, Loiseau underscored that the EU and France are heavily involved in missions, especially in France, and that any Macedonian contribution would be highly appreciated.