European Union leaders failed Friday to agree on launching membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia in an embarrassing climb-down that could risk inflaming the volatile Balkans region.
The two countries had expected to receive a green light to begin negotiations on joining the European club, a process which could take several years.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Friday failed to persuade France to allow a hoped-for start to accession talks for North Macedonia and Albania - and also failed to agree on a written conclusion, which, in the absence of a date for EU talks, would have sent a positive message to Skopje and Tirana about their further engagement in the process.
Talks in Brussels continued on Friday on the European Union accession prospects of North Macedonia and Albania after tense talks ended in a deadlock the previous night on objections from France, The Netherlands and Denmark, who strenuously oppos the position of the other 25 member-states to commence negotiations with the two Balkan nations.
The decision was not reached despite all night long dramatic discussion, and despite the warnings that turning Tirana and Skopje away would tarnish the EU's reputation and could risk inflaming the Western Balkans region.
Diplomatic sources say that EU leaders struggled past midnight in a tense debate to reach common conclusions in a bland statement offering encouragement to the candidate countries, and yet postponing a formal decision for accession talks.
In a major blow to the hopes of the two Balkan countries, the European Council - preoccupied with Brexit - on Thursday failed to give Albania and North Macedonia a date to start EU membership talks.
In a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement on the matter, amid fading hope, the Council moved the issue of enlargement to Friday's last session of the council.
Namely, according to the Pristina based Gazeta Blic daily, the European Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations believes that this would most affect the relations between Kosovo and Serbia.