European Council President Donald Tusk (l) and North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (r) attend a joint press conference in Skopje, September 17.
The announcement of the European Council’s decision on accession talks for North Macedonia and Albania is expected at the European Union summit next month, and its outgoing president, Donald Tusk, visited both Tirana and Skopje last week.
Judging by his statements at the end of his Balkan tour, both countries have made much of the necessary progress required by Brussels and EU member-states should now give the green light for accession talks to commence.
Although a number of reforms still need to be carried out, Tusk stressed yet one more reason why EU leaders should set the much-coveted date for talks to start, saying that “there will be no stable and safe Europe without the integration of all the Balkans in the EU.”
There is no arguing with his observation and everything points to this being the main reason that the European Council’s pendulum will swing in favor of the enlargement.
Albania and North Macedonia are crucial to the sensitive equilibrium of the Balkans. Both are already members of NATO and need to be inducted into the European Union family in order for them to be more tightly bound to the West.
In terms of the domestic criteria they still need to meet, neither North Macedonia nor Albania can actually walk through the EU’s door right now, even though much progress has been made in this direction, mainly as a result of pressure from Brussels. The Eurocrats are well aware of the continuing shortcomings, but are more interested in creating a safety net to maintain stability and protect the Balkans’ so-called “soft underbelly.”
Jean-Claude Juncker’s strategy of European enlargement is still the main tool to achieve this end, even though some member-states are reacting to the idea, mainly for domestic reasons.
It must be taken into consideration that the Balkans is home to millions of ethnic Albanians, North Macedonia needs to be shielded from further interventions from Russia – among others – and the people of both countries must be given something to hope for so that they don’t become withdrawn and inward-looking.
Domestic reforms should not be allowed to become an insurmountable obstacle; they can wait. After all, Brussels will be in a much better position to demand these reforms of the two countries as they travel the road to EU accession, which promises to be long and challenging, than if it shuts the door in their faces.