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Western Balkan leaders fume after summit fails to unblock EU bids – Reuters

EU leaders failed on Thursday to overcome Bulgaria’s objection to North Macedonia joining the bloc, leaving several Western Balkan leaders furious at the extent to which European aspirations across the region have been thwarted.

“I will be blunt,” furious North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski said speaking to reporters after the meeting. “What is happening now is a serious problem and a serious blow to the credibility of the European Union.”

There were glimmers of hope Thursday’s summit of Western Balkans and EU leaders could lead to a compromise between Bulgaria, which blocked North Macedonia’s EU membership after a dispute several years regarding history and language. But it quickly became clear Thursday morning that such hopes would soon be dashed.

After the meeting, which preceded a two-day EU leaders’ summit, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama criticized Bulgaria and the entire EU enlargement process.

“Bulgaria is a disgrace, but it’s not just Bulgaria,” he said. “The reason for this is the twisted spirit of enlargement – its totally twisted spirit. Bulgaria is the most amazing expression of this. The spirit of enlargement has evolved from a shared vision of an entire community to the removal of individual member states.

Rama was particularly sharp in his remarks. He denounced the fact that Bulgaria had made the EU “impotent”. He referenced the tracks perpetually doomed to purgatory in “Waiting for Godot.”

The Western Balkans’ EU prospects have returned to the spotlight amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has prompted Kyiv, along with neighboring Moldova and Georgia, to seek EU membership. On Thursday, EU leaders will nominate Ukraine and Moldova as official candidates, moving with an eagerness that reinforced just how much other EU candidates have been waiting in the wings.

In the Western Balkans, North Macedonia has been an EU candidate since 2005. Serbia then secured the designation in 2012 and Albania joined in 2014. The waiting game left the region’s leaders grumbling.

“My country North Macedonia and the Republic of Albania, but also the region, we cannot be stuck in this situation because one country simply fails to coordinate and ensure the unblocking of a European path for us,” he added. Kovacevski said.

In a last-ditch effort to make progress before Thursday, the French EU presidency presented a proposal to break the deadlock last week.

But the plan was banned for North Macedonia, Kovačevski said, calling it “unacceptable”.

Thursday’s meeting saw a dose of chaos before it even started, with some regional leaders threatening to boycott Bulgaria’s longstanding stonewalling.

Bulgaria also fell into a precarious political situation just before the meeting, with Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov loses a vote of no confidence, making him the country’s incumbent leader. As he made his way to the top, Petkov said he would leave the responsibility to the Bulgarian parliament to push the process forward, as the next elections approach.

“I will say that I promised the Bulgarian people that this decision should be taken by the Bulgarian parliament,” Petkov swore. “Only the Bulgarian parliament is the most representative institution. I will always keep my word. »

“We are expecting a discussion in parliament soon enough,” he added later. “The delay will not be long.”

French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile told reporters that a deal between Skopje and Sofia was “a bit too early”.

Yet other EU leaders, including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte insisted progress could be on the horizon.

“Nothing is ever easy in the Balkans, but here I think you could see a 50 to 60 percent chance of a breakthrough next week,” Rutte said.

Maïa de La Baume contributed to the report.