BRUSSELS—The summit of the European Council on October 17-18 was a turbulent one for discussions about expanding the European Union’s number of member states.
At a press conference, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that talks over admitting Albania and North Macedonia as member states had broken down.
With an agreement reached for Brexit on the contentious border of Northern Ireland between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and the October 31 deadline for the UK to leave the EU extended to January 31, eyes have looked east for potential new members.
The decision to try and add member states is also a response by the EU to the United States’ lack of follow through on its foreign policy commitments and increased criticism of the EU. President Donald Trump has referred to the EU in 2018 as a “foe,” and the administration earlier this month imposed tariffs on EU imports, primarily steel and aluminum.
The hopes for regional enlargement were ended when discussion over the entry of the Balkan countries of North Macedonia and Albania were blocked by France with support from the Netherlands and Denmark.
Individual member states such as Poland and Hungary, where far-right populist parties rule, have bilateral agreements with the United States that are stronger than those between the EU and the United States. Polish European Parliament member Radosław Sikorski said that while there is friction right now between the EU and United States, the trans-Atlantic relationship should try to be maintained.
In response to the current U.S. lack of interest in multilateral diplomacy, the EU is reconsidering the role it plays regionally and globally. Sikorski said, “We may be a military midget, but in terms of regulating industry and cyber and data and banking, Europe maters.”
The hopes for regional enlargement were ended when discussion over the entry of the Balkan countries of North Macedonia and Albania were blocked by France with support from the Netherlands and Denmark. French President Emmanuel Macron said that the EU needs internal reform in its decision-making process before enlargement can take place. There is also the worry that admitting less economically stable countries could weaken the EU financially, with Greece used as an example.
With the approaching end of terms of office for both presidents Tusk and Juncker, the question was raised as to the EU’s future after the rejection of these bids for membership.
The vote to initiate talks related to accepting applications of new members must be unanimous by the current member states.
“Both countries have the right to start EU negotiations as of today. They are ready. Unfortunately, a few members states are not ready yet,” Tusk said. He made the personal remark that he thought the decision was a mistake and believed that both had passed the test for eligibility.
“Today I would like to send a message to our Albanian and Macedonian friends. Please do not give up. I fully understand your frustration, because you did your share and we haven’t,” Tusk said. He said he has absolutely no doubt that one day both countries will become members of the EU and that as a complex political entity, sometimes it takes too long to make decisions.
With the approaching end of terms of office for both presidents Tusk and Juncker, the question was raised as to the EU’s future after the rejection of these bids for membership and whether those rejections could be described as a “failure” in terms of the EU honoring its commitments and responsibilities.
Donald Tusk said that while it is currently difficult to be optimistic when thinking of future inclusion talks, the overwhelming majority of member states voted to accept North Macedonia and Albania.
“It’s not a failure, it’s a mistake. I feel really embarrassed,” Tusk said. He said that “you should never give up,” and that this situation reminds him of his first aspirations for a European future for his home country of Poland and that he had to wait more than 25 years for this dream to become a reality.
He said that while currently it is difficult to be optimistic when thinking of future inclusion talks while there are member states that remain skeptical, the overwhelming majority of member states voted to accept North Macedonia and Albania.
Juncker responded to the question that if this is a possible end to enlargement, “We will have to face severe criticism. We were encouraging those countries, we were helping those countries, visiting those countries, and we were making public promises to these countries. If we want to be respected, we have to keep our promises.”
It does not seem likely that Turkey, a long-time applicant for EU membership, will be included in efforts to expand the union anytime soon. The recent Turkish military invasion of Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria has drawn condemnation from the EU and severely jeopardized Turkey’s attempt to become a member state.
It does not seem likely that Turkey, a long-time applicant for EU membership, will be included in efforts to expand the union anytime soon.
“We need to raise the rate to call for Turkey to put a permanent end to its military action immediately and to withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law,” Tusk said.
Turkey was first officially recognized as a candidate for full membership in 1999.
Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel has said that the departure of the UK would make the state a third country rival for the EU. In response to a question about this statement and if it affected enlargement talks, Juncker said he agreed that the UK would be a third country actor.
“I don’t like this perspective, but that’s the choice of the British people,” Juncker said.
Jackson Stephens is a USC graduate student participating in a foreign affairs reporting class taught by Professor Phil Seib, a collaboration between the Pacific Council and the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.