Em­manuel Macron’s Balkan be­trayal

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Christophe­r R. Hill Christophe­r R. Hill, for­mer U.S. as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asia, is chief ad­viser to the Chan­cel­lor for Global En­gage­ment and Pro­fes­sor of the Prac­tice in Diplo­macy at the Univer­sity of Den­ver, and the author of “Out­post

DEN­VER — Since the fall of the Ber­lin Wall 30 years ago, West­ern lead­ers have con­sis­tently main­tained that there are no prob­lems on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent that can­not be ad­dressed through en­gage­ment with the Euro­pean Union or an ex­pan­sion of the Euro­pean project.

But that long­stand­ing out­look seems to be chang­ing, ow­ing to a com­bi­na­tion of in­ter­nal EU woes and Amer­i­can in­dif­fer­ence.

It may seem awk­ward that the United States would en­cour­age mem­ber­ship in some­one else’s club in the first place.

But from its lead­er­ship po­si­tion within NATO

— the premier Euro­pean se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tion — the U.S. has al­ways been sup­port­ive of Euro­pean ef­forts to con­sol­i­date po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic unity on the con­ti­nent.

And the EU, for its part, has rec­og­nized that mem­ber­ship in the bloc is a log­i­cal as­pi­ra­tion for the post-Soviet coun­tries on its pe­riph­ery. While deep­en­ing and en­larg­ing the struc­tures of the EU has proved to be more dif­fi­cult than many U.S. ob­servers re­al­ized, Euro­pean lead­ers have sol­diered on, not least be­cause that is what was ex­pected of them in the con­text of post-Cold War his­tory.

But the Euro­pean Coun­cil’s re­cent meet­ing on Oct. 17-18 pro­vided con­fir­ma­tion that some­thing has changed: French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron made the fate­ful de­ci­sion to block EU ac­ces­sion talks with Al­ba­nia and the Repub­lic of North Mace­do­nia.

With the United King­dom leav­ing the EU and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel re­tir­ing from pol­i­tics, Macron is the heir ap­par­ent to Euro­pean lead­er­ship. But his rea­son­ing on the ques­tion of EU ex­pan­sion is opaque.

Many, even in the con­spir­acy-minded Balkans, as­sume that Macron sim­ply has no ap­petite for the dif­fi­cult process of tak­ing on two more mem­ber states from a still-trou­ble­some re­gion, given the in­ter­nal chal­lenges al­ready fac­ing the EU.

Still, the dis­ap­point­ment

— even anger

— over Macron’s de­ci­sion is pal­pa­ble in Ti­rana and Skopje (the Al­ba­nian and

North Mace­do­nian cap­i­tals, re­spec­tively).

North Mace­do­nia, after all, just fin­ished chang­ing its of­fi­cial name in or­der to pla­cate Greece, which had been ve­to­ing its mem­ber­ship on the grounds that its name was too sim­i­lar to the Greek re­gion of Mace­do­nia.

Mean­while, Bul­garia, an­other EU mem­ber, has also frus­trated North Mace­do­nia’s ef­forts, ac­cus­ing the Mace­do­nians of claim­ing Bul­gar­ian na­tional he­roes as their own, and de­mand­ing that they amend their his­tory books.

Faced with these de­mands and strug­gling with the legacy of cor­rup­tion left by his pre­de­ces­sor (who has, oddly, now found

“asy­lum” in Hun­gary), North Mace­do­nia’s rel­a­tively new, in­ex­pe­ri­enced prime min­is­ter, Zo­ran Zaev, con­cluded that his coun­try ur­gently needed to get into NATO and the EU.

He rammed through the long­sought name change, nor­mal­ized re­la­tions with Greece, pla­cated the Bul­gar­i­ans, and ap­plied for mem­ber­ship. He knew that the name change did not poll well, that many Mace­do­nians saw it as a hu­mil­i­a­tion that could be jus­ti­fied only by EU ac­ces­sion. But, be­cause both NATO and the EU had sin­gled out the name dis­pute as the main hur­dle to mem­ber­ship, he and the Mace­do­nian pub­lic had high hopes for gain­ing ad­mis­sion to both or­ga­ni­za­tions.

For its part, NATO has fol­lowed through. Though some mem­bers still need to ap­prove, the Repub­lic of North Mace­do­nia is ex­pected to be­come a full NATO mem­ber at the al­liance’s De­cem­ber sum­mit.

But the EU ac­ces­sion process has been much slower. Macron, who has said very lit­tle on the sub­ject, seems to be wor­ried that con­tin­u­ing en­large­ment of the bloc will make re­form­ing its gov­er­nance struc­tures more dif­fi­cult.

But by slam­ming on the brakes, he has put Zaev in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion. North Mace­do­nian vot­ers, their hopes dashed, will re­turn to the polls for a gen­eral elec­tion in April.

In the past, one might have ex­pected the U.S. to step in. But in the con­text of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s largely un­formed for­eign pol­icy, the plight of small, dis­tant coun­tries like North Mace­do­nia and Al­ba­nia barely reg­is­ters.

Of course, it is pos­si­ble that Trump has tired of the French pres­i­dent’s star power and is wel­com­ing the re­cent crit­i­cism of him with a sense of schaden­freude. It is also pos­si­ble that Trump doesn’t want Al­ba­nia and North Mace­do­nia to join the EU. But, most likely, he sim­ply has no idea what is hap­pen­ing in the West­ern Balkans.

Just a few years ago, the U.S. doubt­less would have been work­ing with the EU to fa­cil­i­tate the ac­ces­sion process for both coun­tries.

While EU mem­ber­ship would not solve their prob­lems, it would help to ad­dress in­sti­tu­tional weak­nesses, and it would sig­nal to an in­creas­ingly re­van­chist Rus­sia that the geopo­lit­i­cal game in the Balkans is com­ing to an end.

Given the trauma the re­gion has suf­fered over the past 25 years, Amer­ica and Europe have a duty to ful­fill the prom­ise of the postCold War era.

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