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EU enlargement: the carrot is indispensable
EU enlargement is not really popular. Some of the newer member states, especially Romania and Bulgaria, lacked the necessary EU maturity from the start; Poland and Hungary made devastating setbacks in their political culture after accession. And the states in the Western Balkans, which are now standing at the door of the Union and knocking hard, are all difficult cases - poor, corrupt and far from the democratic rule of law.
Emmanuel Macron's veto against the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia should therefore not be condemned. With the exception of Turkey, such talks will sooner or later lead to accession - regardless of whether the states have actually met the conditions or only on paper. If France and the Netherlands are now calling for new rules for the admission procedure in view of the controversial accession decisions of the past, then they have good arguments in favor of them.
But the example of North Macedonia in particular shows why a complete freeze on enlargement would be a serious mistake. The EU perspective is the strongest driving force for democratic and market-economy reforms and also makes a decisive contribution to peace in a highly insecure region. The accession carrot is an indispensable geopolitical lever for Brussels, also against the influence of Russia and China.
The government in Skopje consumed a lot of political capital in agreeing to change the name of the state to resolve the conflict with Greece. In doing so, she fulfilled Brussels' demands and rightly awaited the reward. If this does not happen, it weakens the pro-European camp and gives nationalist forces a boost. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's election decision is not good news for the EU and the region.
But how can one keep the hope of EU membership alive in such countries without keeping the promise too early? Eternal conversations are not a solution because at some point they lose their meaning. In the case of the Western Balkans, one might consider conditional membership for a decade or more, which is more easily restricted or revoked. Because Europe has had one experience: once a state is in the EU, the influence of the West quickly disappears. (Eric Frey, October 21, 2019)
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