The European Union’s General Affairs Council sent shockwaves in political circles on Tuesday, when it did not approve the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania following a veto from France.
The EU Commissioner responsible for enlargement Johannes Hahn, expressed his deep regret over the veto motivated by reservations expressed by France and other member states.
At a joint press conference with Finnish Minister of European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen, who chaired the Council meeting, Hahn called the lack of approval “not a moment of glory for Europe – it’s the third time in 16 months that we are discussing this important issue!” and clarified that the majority of member states had supported the European Council’s recommendation to start negotiations.
Having said in earlier statements that negotiations with the two countries would be “a strategic decision in the EU’s own genuine interest,” as “the western Balkans are already part of Europe,” he also warned that if the EU stopped engaging with the region, it would open the way for Russia, China and Turkey to push their own political agendas.
Hahn was quick to note that “the huge majority of member states supported the European Council’s recommendation,” and expressed the hope that “EU leaders can rectify today’s non-result at the European Council summit.”
“How can we be a global actor if we even can’t deal with our inner courtyard, the western Balkans?” he asked.
Minister Tuppurainen also expressed regret, but added that “the discussion was useful to clarify positions. I remain hopeful, as [European Council] President [Donald] Tusk assumably intends to put this issue in the debate in the European Council later this week.”