The EU will lose influence in the Western Balkans and risk boosting rivals such as Russia and China if it fails to endorse North Macedonia on joining the bloc, says Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov for Financial Times.
“When there is a good case for accession talks, that needs to be recognised and rewarded. If this does not happen, then the leverage of the EU becomes weak,” said Dimitrov, adding that the Western Balkans is a region of geopolitical competition involving Beijing and Moscow.
Dimitrov acknowledges opposition towards enlargement had not disappeared but he is confident that the EU would give North Macedonia green light this year to start talks to join the Union.
As he underlined, the country has taken reforms in areas such as fighting corruption, creating an overwhelmingly compelling case for accession talks. Furthermore, it resolved the longstanding territorial issue with Greece.
Nevertheless, he warned that rejection by the EU would damage the credibility of the government in Skopje and boost the opposition.
“It would be discouraging also for those who attempt to resolve other important bilateral disputes in a region plagued with disagreements since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia,” Dimitrov says.
Commenting on the situation in Tirana he expressed his desire to to help Albania while acknowledging that each country would be judged on its own merits.
Professor at the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz Bieber also thinks that not opening the accession negotiations with North Macedonia would do no good for the region.
“The failure of North Macedonia’s EU membership bid would risk alienating reformist forces in the Western Balkan region while encouraging autocrats,” Bieber says for Financial Times.
Director of the Skopje-based European Policy Institute Simonida Kacarska also commented on it by saying it would send a message that in the region it is not worth it to take bold political decisions towards solving disputes.