French connections: How to revitalise the EU enlargement process

Across Europe, France’s obstruction of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania is widely seen as a step backwards. However, Paris does not dispute the accession perspective for the Western Balkans.

President Emmanuel Macron’s intentions are best described as an attempt to begin a wider discussion about the accession process, its practicality, and its ability to produce tangible results. And rightly so. The European Union’s current enlargement policy is defective and is largely based on the mutual exchange of hypocrisy: the bloc pretends to enlarge and Western Balkans countries pretend to reform.

Progress reports by the European Commission – to name just one example – are often seen in the region and beyond as supportive of Balkans strongmen. The perception is, to a great extent, a consequence of the Commission having lost most of its leverage due to endless delays and the hollowing-out of the enlargement process. This half-hearted support is, on its own, counterproductive to substantive reform because it favours box-ticking exercises.

In some instances, the constant push for reform has thrown Western Balkans institutions into a state of chaos and overcomplexity. In the case of Albania, for example, the process of intensively vetting judges and prosecutors started under pressure from the EU but, by 2019, had left the country’s Supreme Court with only two judges, rendering it non-functional.

To fix the problem of dysfunctional enlargement, the EU should make the process political and reversible.

To continue reading, please visit the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

(Photo of Macron:



Vessela Tcherneva

Vessela Tcherneva is deputy director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and head of ECFR’s Sofia office. Her topics of focus include EU foreign policy and the Western Balkans and Black Sea region. Between January and July 2022, she held the position of Foreign Policy Advisor to the Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. From 2010 to 2013, she was the spokesperson for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov’s political cabinet. Previously, she was secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and former German President Richard von Weizsäcker; supervising editor of the Foreign Policy Bulgaria magazine; and political officer at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, DC. Tcherneva holds an MA in Political Science from the Rhienische Friedrich-Wilhelm Universität in Bonn.