On Thursday, October 17th, 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron vetoed the accession negotiations for both North Macedonia and Albania, the essential next step to joining the European Union. President Macron has been an ardent supporter of the European Union and preaches cooperation between the member states. Thus, confusion followed President Macron’s decision to veto the beginning of the next step in the European Union accession process, especially because in previous statements he urged North Macedonia and Albania to follow through with democratic reforms so they could be accepted into the European Union.
As a result of President Macron’s veto, there is now the unsettling question of whether or not the accession of North Macedonia and Albania will move along, given President Macron’s commitment to reforming the European Union accession process to better protect the three pillars of “Freedom, protection, and progress.” He has called for a rigorous examination of potential new members of the European Union to ensure that they are upholding the democratic values of the European Union, hence his veto of the accession of North Macedonia and Albania. President Macron argues that by reforming the European Union and its accession process, the European Union will not fall to anti-democratic pressures in the future. However, by denying North Macedonia and Albania from entering the next stage in the process, President Macron may have endangered future European Union alliances in the face of an already sweltering Eurosceptic climate.
The European Union, or as it was first known the European Coal and Steel Community, was originally established as a way to prevent another world war by intertwining European nations economically and politically. To join the European Union, there are certain requirements of states that wish to participate. One of the most important requirements for membership is found in the Maastricht Treaty which states that countries hoping to join the EU must respect the “principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.” The arguments President Macron stated for denying North Macedonia and Albania was that they did not meet the requirements of the Maastricht Treaty and that in order to truly protect the three pillars it was the duty of the European Council, the leaders of the member states of the European Union, to hold North Macedonia and Albania to the strictest of standards.
President Macron hoped that by blocking North Macedonia and Albania’s progress in the European Union accession process, he would further exemplify the European Union as a safeguard for democratic values among its members and potential members. His strategy, however, is viewed with significant skepticism. There is now a growing fear that this standstill in the European Union accession process will just potentially encourage North Macedonia and Albania to fully withdraw their bids to enter the European Union, and instead, align themselves with hostile foreign powers like Russia. With North Macedonia and Albania in crucial geographic positions near numerous European Union nations, it would be tactically advantageous for Russia to align its interests with them in order to further manipulate European nations.
Historically, Russia has disseminated pro-Russian ideologies throughout European nations and having disillusioned nations like North Macedonia and Albania near prominent European Union members, such as Greece, may benefit them greatly. Both North Macedonia and Albania share borders with Greece, one of the European Union member states suffering the most from the migration crisis. North Macedonia and Albania’s skepticism towards the European Union following their rejection may also help promote this attitude among Greece, who is continuing to suffer from the economic burdens of the migrant crisis, and spread eurosceptic Russian ideologies.
Furthermore, in a geographic context, Russia has limited port access in the Mediterranean and if they were to align themselves with, particularly, Albania they could extend their economic leverage, gaining access to trade in that area and a dock for their naval ships. Numerous European Union leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission have spoken out about their thoughts regarding France’s surprising veto; they both have called for the European Union to “keep its promise” to North Macedonia and Albania, urging President Macron to move the accession discussions back on track in order to avoid further prospects of disagreement or disengagement. The council members’ disagreement demonstrates that the accession process for North Macedonia and Albania may be debated for quite some time, which could allow external forces to exert their own interests onto North Macedonia and Albania.
On a larger scale, President Macron’s veto comes at a pivotal moment for the European Union as the rise of Euroscepticism continues to embed itself within member nations and surrounding nations. Euroscepticism, or the criticism of the European Union and European integration as a whole, has caused confidence in the institution of the European Union to falter somewhat in member nations, such as France, Greece, and Spain. President Macron’s veto may only further this disillusionment with the European Union, as many interpret his veto as representing an absence of faith in the EU accession process.
As the leader of one of the most prominent member nations of the European Union, President Macron’s veto may sway other nations against joining the European Union, leading potential alliances to instead look for unions with more hostile powers, chiefly Russia. As a result of President Macron’s veto, Russian promotion of Euroscepticism could gain further traction within the rejected states of North Macedonia and Albania, making it easier for Russia to assert their own ideologies upon these countries. Therefore, the standstill of the European Union accession process for countries like North Macedonia and Albania could not only prove lethal for the stability of the European Union’s influence but rather the very state of European Unity as a whole.