Ministarstvo vanjskih i europskih poslova

Intervju ministra Grlića Radmana za The Guardian

Western Balkans left #39betrayed#39 by EU over membership talks Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and Shaun Walker in Budapest

Gordan Grlić Radman, foreign minister of Croatia, which in 2013 was the last country to join the EU and takes over the rotating presidency on 1 January.

The European Unionrsquos refusal to open membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania has left feelings of betrayal in the western Balkans, Croatia, which takes over the blocrsquos rotating presidency on 1 January, has said.

Gordan Grlić Radman, the foreign minister of Croatia, which in 2013 became the last country to join the European Union, questioned whether the decision of EU leaders at a summit in October, led by France and backed by Denmark and the Netherlands, was correct and fair.

The country, which is taking the EU presidency for the first time, is seeking to revive the EU dream for North Macedonia and Albania.

North Macedonia had hoped to get approval to open membership talks after ending a 30-year dispute with Greece over its name. Albania, which filed an application to join the EU in 2009, had also hoped to start formal negotiations. Membership talks between these countries and the EU will take years.

Both countries were told they had a future in the EU in 2003, but years of crisis and internal division inside the bloc, as well as the weakening rule of law in some member states, have dened appetite for more members.

Radman said North Macedonia had met all the preconditions. Now is it correct and fair? They made a lot of efforts,rdquo he said referring to the historic deal to change the countryrsquos name, made with the assumption that EU and Nato membership would follow.

The people in North Macedonia were not happy with this change of name hellip And now the cold shower. They lost from all sides, they feel betrayed.rdquo

North Macedoniarsquos foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov, said the deal was a small miracle in this part of Europe and needs nurturingrdquo. He said the Croatian presidency could be a good chance for the discussion to get back on track.

Croatia hopes EU leaders can reach agreement on reforming its enlargement process in March, prior to a summit between the EU and six western Balkan countries in May.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, insists the EU enlargement process should be overhauled to include a provision that countries can be required to redo earlier stages if there is any backsliding on commitments to the rule of law.

Radman said Croatia would be an honest broker, but also questioned whether it was fair to change the rules for countries that had begun talks under the existing system, such as Serbia and Montenegro. It is not possible to change the rules during the play,rdquo he said.

The opening of accession agreements doesnrsquot cost the European Union,rdquo contended Radman, an argument dismissed by Macron. Just to open negotiations: of course it does not mean they will become members tomorrow.rdquo

Leaders of the EU institutions declared the decision of the leadersrsquo summit not to open accession talks as a historic mistakerdquo.

Critics of Macronrsquos approach have pointed to the growing influence of China, Turkey and Russia in the western Balkans and say that by stepping aside, the EU will allow other players to move in.

A serious debate has now started, but the mood in the region is very depressed. Therersquos a general worry about whether enlargement is going to continue, or whether there will there be further obstacles at every step,rdquo said Florian Bieber, a political scientist at the University of Graz.

Ruslan Stefanov, a director at the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, said Macron had a point, that the EU needed to treat enlargement as a political, foreign policy challenge, not a technical process. There is a strong political angle to this accession process and this requires a much more assertive foreign policy on the side of the EU.rdquo

This meant, he said, that EU delegations in western Balkan candidate countries should be vocal on a daily basisrdquo if a government is failing to live up to its promises. If something happens that is not in line with what should be happening then we should say. We should not wait to say this in six months time in a report hellip We should say on the news locally.rdquo

He said neither North Macedonia nor Albania could count on getting approval in the first part of the year, citing the troubled Franco-German relationship. Germany remains a strong advocate for EU enlargement in the Balkans, but was not able to convince France. I havenrsquot seen the chemistry between Berlin and Paris on this after the so-called historic mistake,rdquo Stefanov said. I havenrsquot seen the stars aligning, I havenrsquot seen much practical work.rdquo

Bieber said Croatia was a supporter of accession for Albania and North Macedonia, but cautioned that the country has its own agenda when it comes to Bosnia and its own tensions with Serbia, so in that regard itrsquos got issues with its neighbours that donrsquot make it easy to promote enlargementrdquo.

Croatia will have support in its pro-enlargement agenda from Viktor Orbaacuten, Hungaryrsquos far-right prime minister. Hungaryrsquos Oliveacuter Vaacuterhelyi is in charge of the enlargement portfolio in the new EU commission, and Orbaacuten has long been an advocate of enlargement, favouring the EU admitting countries without making demands on democracy and rule of law.

Itrsquos very important that in the upcoming period those of us who want enlargement give these countries our support,rdquo said Orbaacuten, in a recent interview with Croatian media. Croatians and Hungarians agree that the European Union should admit as many countries as possible as rapidly as possible, according to uniform standards. This would not only benefit them, but also Croatia, Hungary and European security in general.rdquo copy TheGuardian Intervju dostupan na: