EU leaders failed to agree to initiate accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia by the conclusion of the bloc’s summit on Friday.

“Please don’t give up,” European Council President Donald Tusk, told the countries on Friday, saying this latest delay was about the bloc and not about them. He added that  EU leaders had made a “mistake” by not extending the invitation to start accession talks.

Officials in Skopje and Tirana had begun Friday unclear about whether EU leaders gathered in Brussels would decide to offer them complicated accession talks or revisit the issue at a later summit.

“I hope it’s possible to reach an agreement,” said Prime Minister Antti Rinne of Finland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Strategic fallout

Decisions on starting accession talks, which do not guarantee EU membership, had been elevated to summit level after France had on Tuesday vetoed a go-ahead made by EU ministers at a presummit meeting.

Backing French President Emmanuel Macron’s stance had been the Netherlands and Denmark.

France argues that the accession process itself needs reform and that North Macedonia and Albania should wait until this occurs. He cited persistent corruption and rule-of-law issues in Hungary and Romania.

They joined the bloc in 2004 and 2007, respectively.

‘Enormous benefits’

Critics within the EU warn that dashing hopes in the Balkan nations after they instituted reforms could fuel nationalism and prompt trade and political overtures from Russia, Turkey and China.

Incoming European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen urged EU leaders not to exclude the aspirants, saying North Macedonia and Albania had made “enormous efforts to meet European norms.”

“I would very much like them to receive a positive signal,” von der Leyen said.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the man von der Leyen will replace, also expressed frustration with the decision, calling it “a historic error.”

Name change

Endorsing North Macedonia, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said Skopje had done a lot by changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — and thereby taking a step toward also joining NATO.

“It changed the country’s name, it changed its constitution, and it did everything to receive an invitation, so I think the absence of decision will have serious political consequences,” Nauseda said.

Albania, which has carried out a judicial overhaul, still faces skepticism from France, the Netherlands and Denmark over the scale of reform progress.

At a meeting with Macron in Toulouse on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged his desire to reform the accession process.

On Thursday, she spoke in favor of membership prospects for both Balkan nations.

ipj/rt (AFP, dpa)

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