EU Lack of Resolve Fuels Euroscepticism in Western Balkans – North Macedonia’s Premier
North Macedonia's prime minister, Zoran Zaev, has warned the EU that it's taken a reputational hit in the Balkans and will lose more ground to rival powers if it doesn't start membership talks with his country and Albania soon.
EU members agreed more than a year ago to start talks with the two countries but the process is on hold, mainly because Bulgaria has blocked North Macedonia's path to the negotiating table. The government in Sofia insists that bilateral disputes between Bulgaria and North Macedonia over language and history must be resolved before the talks can start.
Frustration with the EU in the region has been compounded by the bloc's tardy progress in providing coronavirus vaccines to its Balkan neighbors, prompting them to turn to Russia and China for jabs instead.
"A lot of issues were not how our citizens expected and because of that Euroskepticism increases," Zaev, a Social Democrat, told POLITICO in an interview.
Zaev said a failure to start talks would affect not just his country and Albania but also the wider Western Balkan region, which is now surrounded by EU members and was the scene of a series of wars in the 1990s as Yugoslavia was torn apart.
If the EU is not seen to keep its promises in the region, that would also give Kosovo and Serbia less incentive to resolve their differences in EU-sponsored talks and make it less likely Bosnia and Herzegovina will tackle the reforms necessary to seek its own membership negotiations, he argued.
And if the region's journey toward the EU slows down, Zaev said, "there is more space" for other powers, citing Russia and China in particular.
Zaev also dismissed an idea floated by European Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi of moving ahead with...