EU split over accession process delays any hope of membership for struggling Balkan nations

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The left-behind Balkan nations are banging on the EU door even though their chances of bloc membership are minimal, as Brussels fails to reach a consensus over the accession process. Meanwhile, the EU continues to lead them on.

EU split over accession process delays any hope of membership for struggling Balkan nations

The European Union’s decision to drop the accession talks of Albania and North Macedonia has serious consequences, not least the deep disappointment the two nations rightly feel at this latest betrayal.

As a stated policy, the EU decided that integration of the Balkan states into the bloc was the key to stabilization in the region, preventing a return to the horrors of the 1990s, but it can be hard to tell exactly how this policy has been implemented in the 20 years since the conflicts came to an end.

With North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Serbia all on the waiting list, that is four of the eight poorest countries in Europe all waiting to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Brussels. To lead them on with the likelihood of joining the EU when there is no real will to let them is wrong.

It means the world to the citizens of these countries, and the EU’s high-handedness towards them, is devastating. So when the talks with North Macedonia and Albania were dismissed on the basis that the whole accession process needed to be changed before their involvement could continue, it must have felt like a hammer blow.

Because that change is highly unlikely to happen anytime soon and frankly, falls way down the list of problems now facing the EU when it clearly needs to address the concerns of its current members, let alone those nations outside the bloc. 

In an unstable, economically fraught region such as this, the warnings from the respective Albanian and North Macedonian prime ministers that this latest setback could result in a rise of nationalist rhetoric should be given serious attention.

The EU doesn’t do retrospection. It’s not an institution that tends to question itself in any real sense. It’s just not wired that way. When you have a new parliament now with more than half of the members first timers, how are they expected to know the nuts and bolts of any decisions made by their predecessors?

And let’s face it, these nations face an uphill battle as they seek to join the elite ranks of the 28-member European Union. They will jump through hoops in the hope of joining the Big Boys’ Club and, every time they have moved to have accession considered, one of the sitting members have found a reason to rebuff them. But don’t worry, there’s always a next time.

This excuse last month came from France with their “it’s not you, it’s me” line. Anyone who has ever been dumped knows that the essence of that excuse is most often a lie. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted the EU to sharpen up the accession procedure, though he didn’t explain how exactly, something the outgoing EU bosses Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk (who brook no dissent) ignored, branding the rejection a “historic error” (Juncker) and a “mistake” (Tusk).

Even Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte weighed in, expressing his disappointment.

Albania and North Macedonia admit that even if accession talks began tomorrow, membership of the European Union would probably take 10 years to achieve. You have to ask, why do they bother?

It is because the illusion that has been created is that the EU is the path to riches. That joining the single currency will bring prosperity and security to their struggling nations, and open doors to relations with a richer world that currently remain closed.

It is irresistible.

And the EU knows it, so it can be cruel in its dealings with these poor nations. It can be horribly dismissive and it can drag them along for years on end with the promise of future prosperity.

The awful thing is that the aspirant countries put up with this because they think it might be worth it in the end, on the day they are given the golden ticket. The thing is, that day may never come.

By Damian Wilson, UK journalist & political communications specialist

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