People walk in front of the offices of the European Union with logos reading 'EU for You' in Skopje, North Macedonia, 18 October 2019. EU leaders have delayed the decision for accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania for the third time as they gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit dominated by Brexit talks [GEORGI LICOVSKI/EPA]
Despite the support of 25 member-states, the European Council has rejected the launch of accession talks with North Macedonia, essentially leaving its Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in a political lurch, given that he had plugged the contentious Prespes agreement with Greece to his people as the ticket that will open the gates to Europe.
Indeed, as part of the agreement between the two countries, Greece had agreed to lift is objections to Skopje’s European Union aspirations.
However, the launch of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania was put on hold on Thursday due to objections raised by France, the Netherlands and Denmark.
For his part, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the council that Greece supported the European outlook for the Western Balkans as it was in its interest.
The decision was lamented by former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, whose foreign minister Nikos Kotzias struck the Prespes agreement with his counterpart Nikola Dimitrov, tweeting that it sent “a message of weakness and defeat for the European project.” He also rued that Europe did not keep its word to North Macedonia.
“Sometimes European values are more powerful in the Balkans than they are in Brussels,” he wrote.
But disappointment was not only evident in Athens and Skopje, but also in Brussels, where European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker bemoaned what he described as “a grave historic mistake.”
“If we want to be respected, we have to keep our promises,” he said.