EU commissioner floats shift on Albania membership talks

Move would leave North Macedonia out in the cold due to Bulgarian blockade.

EU commissioner floats shift on Albania membership talks

The European Commission has raised the prospect of starting EU membership talks with Albania while keeping its neighbor North Macedonia on hold due to a dispute with Bulgaria.

Such a move, floated by Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, would be highly controversial as EU officials consider North Macedonia has made more progress toward EU standards than Albania.

The approach is opposed by other EU officials and by many member countries, including key players such as Germany. During a recent meeting of EU ambassadors that discussed the Balkans, not one of the 10 envoys who spoke in the debate mentioned the idea, according to one diplomat.

However, by floating the option, Várhelyi has revived a debate about the EU’s enlargement process, which is widely seen as having stalled in the Western Balkans. That has prompted fears among officials and diplomats that the EU’s sway in its own neighborhood is declining and Russia and China will fill the void.

A discussion paper from the EU’s diplomatic service, circulated ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday that will discuss the Western Balkans, warns that “the people in the region are experiencing a sense of deep disappointment in the enlargement process” and a “perception of tardy EU delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines has further fed a narrative of disillusionment.”

The so-called non-paper, seen by POLITICO, says “a strong EU presence is the best way to prevent the Western Balkans from drifting away.”

But the bloc’s standing in the region will hardly be enhanced by senior officials openly disagreeing on how to handle North Macedonia and Albania.

EU governments gave both countries the green light for talks more than a year ago but told Albania it had to undertake more democratic reforms before negotiations could begin.

Since last November, Bulgaria has blocked the start of negotiations with North Macedonia as part of a dispute that covers language and history.

Decoupling denounced

Várhelyi, Hungary’s commissioner in Brussels, floated the idea of “decoupling” the two membership applications earlier this week in comments to broadcaster Euronews. That prompted a swift pushback from other EU officials, who insisted it was unwise and unviable, and that there was no plan to pursue it.

To become a reality, decoupling would need the support of all the EU’s member countries — something it clearly does not have at present. On Friday, Germany’s Europe Minister Michael Roth made clear Berlin did not share Várhelyi’s view, saying both North Macedonia and Albania should begin talks in June.

“Both countries have delivered on required reforms — now #EU has to deliver, too. Further delay undermines EU credibility+stability in the region,” he tweeted, alongside a video clip of Várhelyi setting out his stance.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok declared that “credible EU enlargement policy” should be about abandoning “the veto in the Council” — a clear reference to the Bulgarian blockade.

North Macedonia’s government also made plain it was not impressed with the commissioner’s move. “My country has fulfilled all the conditions that were set, in line with European values, as has been repeatedly confirmed by the Commission itself,” Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Dimitrov said.

“The case of North Macedonia is a credibility test for the EU in the Western Balkans,” he added. “Will the EU keep its promises?”

Várhelyi, however, seems to be sticking to his stance. At a news briefing on Friday, a spokeswoman for the commissioner, Ana Pisonero, reiterated his view that decoupling could be an option.

“It’s true that he pointed out that, of course, should there not be an agreement in the case of North Macedonia, this might be something that might need to be considered,” she said, while noting the decision was “completely in the hands” of member states in the Council of the EU.

But while there is broad opposition among EU members to decoupling at present, some diplomats predicted the EU may end up having to reconsider if a deal can’t be found that lifts the Bulgarian blockade. “What is clear is that decoupling is not an option now, the rest is to be seen,” said a diplomat.

Hans von der Burchard and Andrew Gray contributed reporting.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Trade and beyond: a new impetus to the EU-India Partnership

Today’s meeting is an opportunity to strengthen an important international partnership.

Trade and beyond: a new impetus to the EU-India Partnership

Narendra Modi is the prime minister of India. António Costa is the prime minister of Portugal, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. 

The meeting of the leaders of the European Union and India taking place tomorrow is a moment of profound geopolitical significance. By bolstering the dialogue between the world’s two largest democratic spaces, it will provide new impetus to our partnership — with a positive effect on international trade and investment.  

India’s role as a major regional and global player is set to continue to expand over the coming years, and a strengthened partnership would offer Europe an opportunity to diversify relations in a strategic region of the world. 

The EU and India have periodically pledged to expand our cooperation, building on the architecture set out in our 1994 Strategic Partnership. But the realization of that ambition has remained a challenge compared to the opportunities offered by our economies, and the dynamics of technological development. 

The Porto EU-India Leaders’ Meeting promises to be a pivotal moment in this regard, giving new momentum to the partnership between the world’s two largest democratic spaces, made up of over 1.8 billion people. This dialogue will be crucial to rebalance relations between the EU and the Indo-Pacific. It is key for us to reaffirm our firm belief in democracy, rule of law, tolerance and the universality and indivisibility of human rights.  

We must seize this opportunity to elevate our relationship, using the huge potential of our democratic spaces to advance trade and investment ties and to support effective multilateralism and a rules-based order.   

The meeting is a chance to expand cooperation between the EU and India in new areas of decisive importance for the development of contemporary societies and economies: the digital transition, connectivity, mobility, health, the energy transition and climate action.  

The EU and India are already key partners in issues of growing relevance for the development and sustainability of our societies. Tomorrow, we will open and widen new paths of cooperation. For example, the EU and India will launch a Connectivity Partnership aiming at furthering the cooperation on transport, energy, digital and people-to-people contacts. 

The meeting is also an opportunity to give a new impetus to trade and investment negotiations between the EU and India.  

The EU is India’s biggest trading partner and the second largest destination for Indian exports. Trade between the EU and India has increased 72 percent in the last decade. The EU is also the leading foreign investor in India. Its share in foreign investment inflows has more than doubled in the last decade. Some 6,000 European companies are present in India, generating 1.7 million direct and 5 million indirect jobs. Growing investments from India in recent years have also meant active presence of Indian companies in the EU as well. 

It is the right time to resume negotiations toward an ambitious and balanced trade agreement capable of acting as a key driver for sustainable growth and jobs creation, both for India and Europe. Apart from everything else, an EU-India agreement would send a powerful signal to the world in support of the benefits of international trade cooperation.  

A similar rationale applies to investment. The negotiation of an EU wide investment protection framework would provide greater stability and certainty to companies from India and EU to expand their presence in each other’s markets. 

EU-India relations have always been marked by mutual support and solidarity. This has been evident during the coronavirus pandemic, when both have supported each other and the rest of the world. India extended medical supplies to Europe earlier and now the EU has extended assistance to India as it experiences a second wave of COVID-19. 

Portugal and India have always played a unique role in bringing the two continents together, both in the distant and recent past. Portugal hosted the first ever EU-India Summit in Lisbon, during the 2000 Portuguese EU Presidency and India hosted the eighth EU-India Summit in New Delhi, in 2007, also during a Portuguese Presidency. 

The Indian Nobel laureate in Literature Rabindranath Tagore, who was born 160 years ago on May 9, travelled extensively in Europe in different periods of his life. The great poet was a staunch believer in the principles of mutual understanding between peoples and in India’s mission to bring together the East and the West. He wrote frequently about the meeting of Europe and India, to which he attributed deep cultural, political and even personal significance: “I have felt the meeting of the East and the West in my own individual life.” 

In a similar way, the epic poem that better represents Portuguese identity narrates a journey to India. “The Lusiads” by Luis Vaz de Camões is also an account of a meeting between Europe and India.  

That makes us particularly conscious of the merits of a relationship spanning two continents and linking two vast oceans that has evolved to accompany the huge transformations in our countries and societies. It is important we do not let this moment pass us by. 

The journey together between the EU and India will be continued and advanced as of tomorrow in search of new routes of political, economic and technological cooperation, with enormous potential for mutual benefits.

Source : Politico EU More   

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