European Council Meeting on 17-18 October 2019

The event, which has generated widespread resonance among Western Balkan countries and the EU, was the failure of the EU summit to agree on a date for the start of accession talks with Republic of North Macedonia and Albania.

France and the Netherlands have urged Skopje and Tirana to meet almost all conditions for opening negotiations, although most member states have declared themselves in favor of starting talks with both sides.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has warned that postponing the start of negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania risks further expanding the influence of Russia, China and Turkey in the Western Balkans.

The inability to reach consensus met the sharp but understandable statement of the Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev, who also underlined that he was ready to even resign. Zaev insists on holding snap parliamentary elections in the Republic of North Macedonia as a matter of urgency, with the aim of finding support among the broad part of the electorate for the country’s current SDSM policy.

Senior representatives of the outgoing EC issued clear warnings against delaying the start of negotiations, which would slow the pace of integration processes in the Western Balkans.

EC President Jean-Claude Juncker called the EU decision “a serious historical mistake”, while MEP Tanja Fajon accused Paris of “playing a dirty game”. EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said he was disappointed with the decision to postpone negotiations with the two Balkan countries. The President of the European Council Donald Tusk also thinks it is a mistake to postpone the start of accession talks, as most EU countries were in favor of such a step. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also gave strong support for the start of EU-North Macedonia-Albania talks, calling the settlement of the 27-year-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic, a historic move.

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