Their EU accession blocked by France, Albania and North Macedonia are opting for a regional, if temporary, solution. Together with Serbia, the Balkan states are looking to create their own version of the EU’s passport-free Schengen Area.
Citizens of the three countries would no longer need a passport to cross the border, but only have to show an ID card.
Labor movement would be liberalized through the mutual recognition of diplomas and qualifications.
Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron blocked the start of EU accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia, arguing that the Balkan states haven’t made enough progress to qualify and that the EU must reform internally before admitting new members.
His concerns were shared by the leaders of Denmark and the Netherlands.
They are not without merit. It would be naive to assume that decades of institutionalized corruption and crime, particularly in Albania, have been washed away over the course of a few years.
That said, progress has been made. North Macedonia’s name change is far from trivial. It represents a willingness to move on from the past. Albania has reformed its judicial system, encouraged by the prospect of membership.
If the French were so adamant about halting enlargement, they should never have made promises to Albania and North Macedonia in the first place.
Leaders of the six Western Balkan countries that remain outside the EU are meeting in Poland this week to discuss their possible accession to the bloc. Four — Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are candidates to become member states.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has praised judicial reforms in Macedonia as well as steps to improve transparency and resolve the former Yugoslav republic’s name dispute with Greece.
“In the last ten years, the solution has not been as close as now and it would be wonderful if the remaining difficulties can be bridged,” she said during a news conference with her Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev.
It would, but the dispute with Greece is only one of the many obstacles to the Balkan nation’s EU accession.