Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last month to block the start of enlargement talks has generated push back. The French President backed by Denmark and Holland refused to agree to the talks beginning before the EU reforms its enlargement procedures.

This has greatly displeased the United States, who are indifferent to the welfare of the EU but very concerned to block Russian and Chinese influence in the Balkans. In true Trump administration style they are not shy about making blunt demands

"America wants the Western Balkans to have a European perspective and will do everything in its power to persuade the European Union to change its position before the next EU leaders' meeting in Zagreb in May," the US special envoy to the region, Matthew Palmer, said in Belgrade on 4 November. He spoke of a “historic mistake”.

US influenced elements in the EU and the countries concerned – Albania and North Macedonia have joined in with a new version of ‘project fear’.

The two countries could be plunged into criminal and financial chaos, North Macedonia and Albania’s prime ministers have warned. Reforms, demanded before membership talks can be triggered, face rapidly unravelling, the leaders of both countries have warned. Albania’s Edi Rama said his country faces becoming “collateral damage” from the deep divisions over enlargement policy emerging across the EU. North Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev claimed the recent decision to block membership talks risks returning his ethnically divided country to its “bad past”.

Mr. Zaev bemoaned the EU’s decision after being forced to deal with a nationalist surge to negotiate a name change for his country. Greece refused to allow EU and NATO accession talks unless Mr. Zaev could convince North Macedonians – formerly Macedonians – to adopt the new name.“Part of the process is irreversible, but I worry there could be a return to the bad past that we had,” he told the Financial Times.“If there is enough nationalist rhetoric, radical acting and speeches in North Macedonia, that will give arguments to Greek politicians to use the same kind of rhetoric… and that can lead to everyone to take concrete steps which will not  good for my region or my country.”

While committed to continuing the EU’s demand for reforms, Mr. Zaev has said he will resign and trigger a general election. The name change agreement could be in jeopardy if his party doesn’t win, he adds.

Mr. Rama, the prime minister of Albania, shared a similar down beat message. He described the EU shutting the door as a “heavy psychological shock in the country. We were twice brutally cut off from Europe, once for five centuries under the Ottoman Empire and then for half a century under the most brutal communist regime,” he said.“No one can live with the idea that there can be a third time, and that this time it can be Europe who cuts us off brutally from itself.”

For both North Macedonia and Albania, they now believe that the possibility of EU membership is at least a decade away.EU Council President Donald Tusk, Parliament chief David Sassoli, both current and incoming Commission Presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Ursula von der Leyen, also all came out in favor.

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."

Chancellor Angela Merkel told her parliamentarians on Thursday that the bloc should "keep its promises" and open talks. She has urged the EU to open talks with other Balkan states as well.

"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.

"There are many countries that want to join the EU, and this is great, but we need to have strong or this process," commented Denmark's Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen.

It now remains to be seen whether the French President will stick to his guns or cave in to US and German pressure as he has often done in the past.

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