North Macedonia launches € 2 million development fund to support Roma businesses
Two prime ministers were particularly angry after the last European Council on June 24-25, writes Simone Galimberti.
As already well reported, this should come as no surprise given the clashes over the EU’s core values regarding discriminatory LGBTQI legislation, but what is more interesting is that the two extremely disappointed prime ministers did not ‘weren’t even in the room during the summit.
Far from Brussels, Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, respectively Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia, did not hesitate to criticize the members of the European Council for not having given the green light to start official accession negotiations of their nations.
Although the fault lies entirely with the veto imposed by Bulgaria on the accession of North Macedonia and a common position that such negotiations with the two countries should only start at the same time, the truth is that all Members do not fully agree to tackle this huge step which, even after intense and protracted negotiations which could take a decade or more, would risk weakening the Union while enlarging it.
While President Macron is still accused of having vetoed the start of the formal access phase in 2019, observers fear that the EU may lose an important opportunity by blocking two nations which, over the past decade , have shown high commitment and determination to prepare for this key moment.
The risk of loss of confidence between the peoples of North Macedonia and Albania in the process of joining the Union, as well as the dangers that other hegemonic powers, namely Russia, should not be underestimated. and China, could take advantage of the situation and extend their influence to the doors of the European Union.
Under these circumstances, it is almost ironic that the European Commission Strategy Paper for the Western Balkans Accession Process published in 2020 and titled Improving the accession process – A credible European perspective for the Western Balkans talks about trust, confidence building and higher levels of predictability to make the membership process efficient and productive.
Still, postponing the official start of negotiations might be the best thing Prime Ministers Rama and Zaev could wish for, as longer-term considerations must prevail over short-term pressures to start sooner.
It should not be just a few whims of Sofia blocking access, but should be a deliberate and commonly accepted strategic approach that would preserve not only the future prosperity of the Union as a whole, but its entire survival.
Nor is it only an apparent loss of confidence of EU citizens in the whole regional integration project as shown by numerous surveys which, with further expansion, will make it even worse.
The European Commission opening legal action against Germany over the primacy of European law over national laws, an issue which, as Commissioner Reynders correctly explained, could generate the Union itself, a discussion on possible changes to the Lisbon Treaty must be inevitable, even Member States will be reluctantly drawn into them.
There are convincing arguments in favor of an overall improvement of the Union’s working mechanisms, starting with the need to add public health to the list of competences shared between the Member States and the European Commission.
More urgent than ever is the abolition of the unanimity rule in the common foreign and security policy and, in addition, the imperative to continue strengthening the role of the European Parliament which still lacks the power of initiative without forgetting the options of a directly elected President of the European Commission and a possible institutional development of both the European Council and the Council of the European Union.
Finally the last comments Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, who currently chairs the rotating EU presidency on ‘imaginary European values’ further demands a much stronger European rule of law and democracy mechanism than the half-baked compromise solution now available, obtained after long negotiations.
While this may appear to be an ambitious agenda, the leaders of the European Union, especially if there is a change of government in Berlin in the fall, will have to face reality and face it: a Union that does not. cannot deliver its increasingly ambitious agenda cannot simply allow a new round of enlargement without first putting its house in order.
Hopefully the Conference on the future of Europe could create an appetite to initiate such an internal debate even if it would make some member states uncomfortable at first, but possible changes of government in Budapest in 2022 and in Warsaw in 2023 could prelude the inevitable decision that a new treaty is what the Union needs.
Does this mean that Albania and North Macedonia have to wait indefinitely in this very uncertain and unpredictable scenario?
Not necessarily, but their objectives in terms of EU membership need to be revised without necessarily diminishing their stature and importance.
The proposal would be an ‘Everything But Full Membership’ approach, an idea which in the past also envisioned the creation of what is known as ‘Associate Membership’, would give the most promising candidates, by in the case of North Macedonia and Albania, full access to all programs currently implemented by the Union but without full membership in the Council.
Instead, the European Council could consider a mandatory setup with the participation of the heads of government of Albania and North Macedonia before its full sessions to which the two countries could even be invited to join as well but without the right to vote.
Likewise, the European Parliament could welcome the representatives of these two countries who could join all the plenaries and all the working committees.
The statute for MEPs from North Macedonia and Albania would have the status of associate members of the European Parliament without the right to vote but the right to speak and propose.
There is no doubt that such arrangements could be rejected as incapable of respecting not only dignity, but also as incapable of fully reflecting the aspirations of two nations which undoubtedly deserve full membership in the Union.
Yet such proposals should not be seen as a rejection of Albania and North Macedonia’s right to full membership, but as a pragmatic step towards that goal.
If there are clear limits on the institutional arrangements side, the citizens of these two nations could enjoy a full range of benefits already enjoyed by citizens of other EU nations, including full access to a common market which, like offers by the European Stability Initiative think-tank, would involve a two-step process that would follow the two-step approach adopted by Finland prior to full membership.
The Commission itself has also foreseen a scenario establishing a complete regional economic space in
2035 rather than full membership.
In addition, full access to the common labor market could be envisaged by gradually opening Schengen to citizens of North Macedonia and Albania who will also benefit from the strengthening of a very promising idea, the so-called Western Balkans agenda on innovation, research, education, culture, youth and sports.
While it is positive that between 2015 and 2025, the Erasmus + program hosted around 49,000 students and higher education staff in exchange programs between the EU and the Western Balkans, with the number of students from North Macedonia and Albania having the opportunity to study with full scholarships at a university based in the EU is expected to increase significantly.
Imagine how Albania and North Macedonia could benefit from their full participation in the NextGenerationEU program.
The package so far proposed by the European Commission to mitigate the impact of Covid and better move forward is certainly generous, but much more should be provided to show how North Macedonia and Albania are fully part of the EU family in terms of tangible benefits.
Certainly, if the current members of the EU want to raise the economies of North Macedonia and Albania, the already large amounts equivalent to 14.162 billion euros allocated via Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) within the framework of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 through which the Economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans will be funded, should be further increased while ensuring the full mobilization of up to € 20 billion envisaged over the next decade as part of the Western Balkans Guarantee Facility.
The advantage of this ‘Everything but full membership’ approach is that, while certainly being onerous for the taxpayers of the current Member States, it will allow Member States to strengthen their institutions and prepare them to fully welcome new ones. members in the decades to come.
In this way, the strengthening of the functioning mechanisms of the EU will also make it possible to counter those nationalist and sovereignist politicians who, already skeptical about the whole process of integration, could certainly use a further enlargement to opportunistically widen their base. protest vote.
Maybe the next one 16th Bled Strategic Forum under the new Slovenian presidency of the EU could offer a platform to reflect on new and new ideas to significantly strengthen the partnerships between the EU and the two most deserving nations of the Balkans.
If the official program prepared by the Slovenes for their six months at the helm of the EU says something, the approach to start access negotiations will be dictated by pragmatism.
Regardless of President von der Leyen’s eagerness to welcome both Skopje and Tirana to the negotiating table as a whole so clearly declared by her during the so-called College visit to the Slovenian Presidency on July 1, a pragmatic but very generous realism characterized by genuine solidarity could on the contrary guide the agenda of the next EU-Western Balkans summit in October.
Those who wholeheartedly support the membership of Tirana and Skopia should not only think of a creative short and medium term alternative to meet the aspirations of their respective citizens, but also be daring to envision a better functioning Union, capable of serve the interests of the citizens of 29 or more Member States.
Simone Galimberti is based in Kathmandu. He writes on social inclusion, youth development and regional integration in Europe and Asia-Pacific.