One month after President Macron single-handedly blocked the opening of accession talks with northern Macedonia, France presented proposals for reforming the EU’s enlargement policy. In it, Paris calls for tightening up membership conditions and for making the accession process more subtle, while making the entire process reversible in the absence of reforms.
In Brussels, the proposal was received rather cautiously. France supports the European perspective for the Western Balkans, i.e. Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, and Serbia. Moreover, the proposal calls for an annual EU summit with the heads of state and government of the respective countries. However, Eastern European countries are worried that the focus on a “methodological discussion” will prevent indefinite participation in accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
Critics have also pointed out France’s plan that prior to the next enlargement, Paris seeks to ensure that the EU has reformed and can respond more effectively to the concerns of its members. However, the parameters for the latter are a completely unknown quantity, leaving prospect countries in limbo.
France considers itself as a quasi-pioneer in this issue, which led Macron to recently state that half of the EU members would hide behind France, before adding that more unity in the EU is needed – which can easily and probably intentionally be interpreted as criticism on Germany.
However, particularly Albania plays a special role for Macron. Among the people claiming asylum in France in 2018 and 2019, Albanians were in third place. Since January, 4,800 Albanians have applied for asylum. However, Albania is considered a safe country of origin. Hence, only 17 percent of applications were approved in 2018. Macron emphasizes that he cannot convey to the French Albanians continue to seek asylum in large quantities, while accession negotiations with Albania and the EU are about to begin.
Like in most other European countries, the number of asylum applications in France has increased by 22 percent to more than 120,000. Macron seeks to end this trend, as he fears the issue helping Le Pen to oust him in the next election in 2022. To prevent this, the French government has recently introduced a 20-point plan designed to restrict immigration.
It can, therefore, be argued, that Macron’s accession plan is not solely designed for the benefit of the European Union but motivated by his future as France’s President. This has resulted in criticism, particularly as Macron’s new approach regarding the enlargement is not the only topic Macron has addressed unilaterally in recent weeks. His statement on NATO being “braindead” was opposed by most European leaders and was criticized as supporting Russia’s ongoing attempts to undermine the alliance, as it would weaken the credibility of the EU in geostrategically important regions and produce only one winner: Putin.
Unsurprisingly, Putin’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Shishov, praises Macron’s analysis: “Objectively, it would be a tremendous exaggeration to say that Albania and northern Macedonia are ready to become EU member states.”
However, after years of gridlock, the EU has finally begun to realize the change around itself. And while a full transition to a stronger, self-reliant version has not yet materialized, Macron has displayed his attention to becoming a key figure in the future of the European alliance.