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The Consequences of EU's rejection of North Macedonia and Albania

The EU’s rejection of North Macedonia and Albania’s bid for membership is potentially going to cause major political upheaval in the Balkans.

Nov 3, 2019

Last week, France, vetoed Albania and North Macedonia’s requests to set a date for discussions on their entry to the European Union. Essentially, these countries were refused entry to the European bloc, something both countries have long wanted. Considering the high stakes of these countries applications, the rejection will have long term ramifications and may cause instability in the Balkans.
In order to get accepted to the EU, all countries have to [satisfy the Copenhagen criteria] (, which means that they should ensure the democratic governance of their institutions, protect all human rights, have a healthy market economy and generally abide by EU standards. Albania, for example, [applied to join] ( the E.U. in 2009, and in the following years, had to work on meeting the Copenhagen criteria and making sure it complies with EU standards. Similarly, [North Macedonia applied to enter] ( the EU in 2004 and besides meeting the Copenhagen criteria, they also had to solve their naming dispute [with Greece] ( This was done because in order for a country to join the EU, it needs the [unanimous agreement] ( of all member countries. Greece, an EU member state, did not recognize North Macedonia’s previous name “Macedonia”, and therefore would keep vetoing its membership to the EU. However, in 2019, the two countries found common ground through the [Prespes Agreement] ( and Macedonia’s name was changed to North Macedonia.
Fast-forward to Oct. 15, 2019, and Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, vetoed the start of discussions on the integration of Albania and North Macedonia into the EU. The French justified their decision on two [main arguments] ( Firstly, the 2 countries have not done enough progress towards the Copenhagen criteria, although EU reports for both [Albania] ( ) and [North Macedonia] ( signify that both countries have carried out a lot of internal reforms in the past few years. The second reservation was that if Albania gets integrated into the EU, the countries of the Union that are more financially developed will be flooded with Albanians since they are the nationality with the [second most asylum applications in France] ( Since this is a problem only for Albania, the EU wanted to try the method of “decoupling” in order to examine the two countries applications separately until a solution was found, but this never happened. Consequently, France voted against the membership of the two countries, although the vast majority of countries agreed with the proposal.
In my opinion, this unexpected decision will result in the instability of the Western Balkan region. Firstly, the most important effect is that the word of the EU has now lost its strength and validity in the Western Balkans. After Albania and North Macedonia, there are also Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo who aspire to enter the European Union. But if the EU asks them to comply with its standards and carry out reforms, who will guarantee that the EU will uphold its end of the agreement when the crucial moment to begin the talks comes? For example, The EU [requires that Serbia recognizes Kosovo] ( in order to enter the EU. Now, the Serbians will be very reluctant to make that compromise, considering the EU might not uphold its pledges.
After the failure of the membership bid, Zoran Zaev, the Prime Minister of North Macedonia [called for snap elections] ( in April because he could not fulfill his promise to integrate the country into the EU. Moreover, once the European hope starts dying inside each Western Balkan country, the rhetoric of the far-right and anti-European politicians will gain prominence.
Even if we believe that these countries will continue their globalized foreign policy, the countries they will want to ally with are Russia and Turkey. On one side, the Prespes agreement had been a blow to Turkish influence in the region. Now, the opportunity is ripe for the Turks – who have historically been massively influential in the Balkans – to get these countries on their side. On the other side, Russia took advantage of the recent situation and [signed a trade deal with Serbia] (, including it to its own Eurasian Economic Union.
All this signifies that there may be a worrysome crisis arising in the Balkans, at least on a diplomatic level. When the Balkans do not do well, Europe does not do well, and the European Union needs to be more aware of this. However, with Brexit negotiations going on at the other side of Europe, the EU is not ready to face multiple crises simultaneously. Maybe the French government is right in saying that the EU faces too many challenges right now to let in two more states. In that case, perhaps the aim should be to reform how the EU works. Regardless, the current situation is not indicative of a healthy European system.
Nicholas Patas is a staff writer. Email him at
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