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.

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(Photo of Macron:



Vessela Tcherneva

Vessela Tcherneva is the head of ECFR’s Wider Europe programme and a senior policy fellow at ECFR. She is the co-founder of Sofia Platform, a venue for dialogue between members of NGOs, the media, and politics from Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. From 2010 to 2013 she was the spokesperson for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the political cabinet of Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov.She has been the head of the Bulgarian office of the European Council for Foreign Relations since 2003, as well as programme director for Foreign Policy Studies at the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. Between 2004 and 2006 she was secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato. She has been a supervising editor for Foreign Policy – Bulgaria magazine since its launch in 2005.