How long will countries in the Western Balkans wait for EU membership? In October 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron led a handful of EU Member States in blocking Albania and North Macedonia from starting accession talks. Macron has called for reforms to the accession process.
At the time, then-President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, called the veto a “major historic mistake”. In February 2019, Skopje finally resolved the long-standing name dispute with Athens by renaming the country “North Macedonia”, costing the Prime Minister significant political capital. There is a feeling in the North Macedonian capital that the EU has reneged on its side of the bargain (and snap elections have been called for April 2020 that could see the ruling party booted out of power by an angry electorate).
Some analysts believe the move by the EU leaves the Balkans “wide open” to Russian influence. Balkan politicians who support EU membership now look weak, and the Kremlin has been keen to promote Russian trade and investment (and even defence cooperation) in the region. Other countries, including Turkey, China, and the Gulf States, are also keen to boost their influence in the Western Balkans in the absence of European leadership.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from James, who worries that if the EU delays the accession process it will open up the region to influence from countries such as Russia. Is he right?
To get a response, we spoke to Christian Danielsson, Director General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR) at the European Commission. How would he respond?
For another perspective, we put the same question to Bernard Nikaj, Ambassador of Kosovo to Belgium and Luxembourg, and acting Head of the Kosovo Mission to the European Union and NATO. What would he say?
Finally, we put James’ comment to Velma Šarić, founder and president of the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC), a Sarajevo-based non-governmental organisation promoting stronger inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. How would she react?
Is the EU losing the Balkans to Russia? If the EU delays Balkan accession, will it lose influence in the region? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts!