Bulgaria has a couple of days left to try to persuade reluctant EU countries to open accession negotiations with Macedonia and Albania, writes Georgi Gotev.
Last May Handelsblatt compared Boyko Borissov to a doorman who tries to smuggle in the EU the countries of the Western Balkans, despite the reluctance of many club members. Indeed, the Western Balkans were the big highlight of the Bulgarian Presidency, and a EU summit on 28-29 June will adopt relevant conclusions, which will be interpreted as a success, or as a defeat, of the push to keep the EU accession process alive.
The very term ‘Western Balkans’ was invented as a replacement for the politically disturbing term ‘EU enlargement’. Besides, the EU enlargement process continues to include Turkey, while ‘Western Balkans’ means EU accession process for the six countries only, not for Turkey which is a special case.
By calling the Western Balkans summit, held on 17 May, Borissov irked Turkey, and had to compensate Ankara with a “Leaders meeting’ with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Varna, on 26 March.
The Western Balkans summit yielded no practical results, but it paved the way for decision-making on 28-29 June, possibly deciding the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia, as the Commission has proposed. Out of the six Western Balkans countries, only Montenegro and Serbia have opened the negotiation process. There is little chance that Bosnia and Herzegovina could do so in the foreseeable future.
Opening negotiations with Albania is however unlikely, after the Dutch parliament passed a motion on 21 June, forbidding the government to give its agreement. Regarding Macedonia, the solution to the name dispute clearly deserves recognition. But since Athens is no longer an obstacle, it appears that several older EU members, and especially France, were hiding behind the Greek veto.
A front of Northern countries have expressed their objections to opening accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia in writing. The issue is being discussed today and tomorrow (25-26 June) at the level of General Affairs Council.
The solution of Greece-Macedonia name dispute was found in a UN-led process. Its key actors probably deserve the next Nobel Peace Prize. Possibly this is why Borissov too claimed some of the credit, reminding that key talks between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian colleague Zaev were held in Sofia, in the margins of the Western Balkans summit.
The Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias suggested in an interview published today that North Macedonia, as he called the neighbouring country, and also Albania could solve their case by accepting a monitoring and screening process. He expressed worries if Albania is denied opening of accession this could destabilise the region.
In the absence of a EU perspective, appetites for Greater Albania will certainly grow, and the way Swiss footballers of Kosovar origin celebrated their goals at the FIFA world Cup are suggestive, to say the least.
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) June 23, 2018
Said Kotzias: “I really wonder: for how long will Albania stand to see Serbia speeding up the negotiations and completing them, while Tirana has not begun them at all?”
In its capacity of country holding the EU Presidency, Bulgaria is expected to push for a mechanism for monitoring and screening, to reassure the Northern countries for opening the accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Bulgaria’s best argument could be its own experience with the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism: it was put in place to overcome the veto of some member states who thought Sofia and Bucharest are not really ready for accession. There is a downside, though. CVM was instituted in 2007 and hasn’t yet produced any good news.