Do Western Balkan countries like Macron’s idea for a two-tier Europe?

by Cristian Florescu

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has pitched one of the biggest reforms to the EU structure in decades – the idea of the second tier of countries outside the bloc that share the bloc’s values and geography, writes Euronews

He suggested that post-Brexit Britain could be involved, as well as countries impacted or threatened by Russia’s invasion: Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

But what about the countries of the Western Balkans? How did Macron’s words go down in a region with long delays over EU membership?

In Albania, which applied to join in 2009, the idea of a two-tier Europe was received with feelings of realism and resignation. The country has seen its bid stall. That’s because it’s linked to the application of North Macedonia, which has been repeatedly vetoed by existing EU countries, the latest being Bulgaria

“He [President Macron] was right five years ago, when he spoke of the need for another path to integration, but little has changed since then,” said the office of Albania’s prime minister, Edi Rama, in a statement to Euronews Albania. 

Jorida Tabaku, head of the Albanian parliament’s European integration committee, saw Macron’s comments as an indication that the European Council — made up of EU countries’ heads of government or state and defines the overall direction of the bloc — will not decide to start membership negotiations with Albania nor North Macedonia when they meet in June. 

Tabaku, stressing the importance of EU integration as a tool to ensure the region’s stability and prosperity, said she believes the war in Ukraine sheds new light on the Western Balkans, highlighting how “easy it is to upset important balances”. According to her, that is the reason why the Western Balkans is receiving extra attention and retaking central focus.

North Macedonia, which applied for membership in 2004, was more positive. A government spokesman called Macron’s idea “an excellent opportunity to unite countries that failed or did not want to join the bloc at a given moment, given the new geopolitical situation”.

In Serbia, its president, Aleksandar Vucic, was more cautious. He said that he had not spoken to Macron for more than a month and would not interfere in decision-making processes within the European Union. 

“I would like to hear what his final plan is so that I can make a statement,” Vucic said in a statement to media in Serbia.

The country has begun talks with Brussels but there is unlikely to be any concrete progress on joining until its dispute with Kosovo is resolved. 

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence from Belgrade in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognise this and continues to treat Kosovo as if it were under its sovereignty.

Officials in Kosovo, considered “a potential candidate for EU membership”, have yet to comment on Macron’s idea.

Bosnia and Herzegovina have the same status as Kosovo. Prospects are poor. It applied for EU membership in 2016 but, according to a European Parliament briefing note, “internal political instability and lack of political reforms have dampened the country’s prospects of joining the EU”.

Montenegro applied for EU membership in 2008 and talks began four years later.

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