French expert on the Balkans Loic Tregoures writes that his country should have “the decency” to tell the Balkan countries if it is really adopting a position of no further enlargement of the EU. Tregoures wrote a comment for the Atlantic Council, responding to the decision by President Emmanuel Macron to block the opening of accession talks for Macedonia and Albania.
It is high time France took a side between no enlargement whatsoever and enlargement in return for tangible reforms in both Brussels and the candidate countries. If it is the latter, Paris must adopt a constructive instead of destructive role. If it is the former, Macron should have the decency to say it instead of humiliating countries and people by postponing decisions every six months. People in the region are not stupid, they know that their countries are not welcomed and are leaving en masse, not as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants, but as legal workers in Germany, Austria, and other EU countries, Tregoures writes.
Tregoures, who personally supported the opening of accession talks, also tries to explain Macron’s position, citing the long standing French opposition to enlargement.
France has always been reluctant about enlargement, from the UK in the 1960s to Spain in the 1980s. Why? Because it weakens Paris’ influence and dilutes the political project of the EU from what France would wish it to be—more integrated and reflective of France itself. In addition, the 2004 Eastern enlargement remains a huge political trauma, as many argue it caused the failure of the 2005 European Constitution referendum and fueled broad reluctance to enlargement within French public opinion. The 2004 enlargement moved the epicenter of Europe—in the eyes of Paris—towards the East, to Germany. Therefore, Paris sees Berlin as the main winner of the last fifteen years, as Germany took full advantage of the integration of its former communist neighbors. Likewise, France sees the Balkans as being part of Germany’s sphere of influence, meaning enlargement should be seen from that standpoint as an element of a broader French bargain with Germany, the French commentator writes.