Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Macedonia Taken Hostage

Although I would expect the issue to reappear when the heads of state and government of the European Union get together in Brussels tomorrow for the crucial meeting of the European Council, it is a fact that it was France that at the meeting of the foreign ministers of Monday blocked giving Macedonia the status as candidate for membership of the Union.

In itself this designation would not necessarily have meant that much. The Commission, which recommended the step, noted that the country is not yet fully ready to start accession negotiationens.

But it would be an important political signal.

First to Macedonia itself, showing that implementing the Ohrid Peace Agreement, signed after the heavy fighting in the country in early 2001, is the road that eventually leads to full European integration.

Secon to the region as a whole, showing that the door to the European Union remains open, but it is dependent on performance on whether one can enter or not.

Both signals would have been of great importance as a critical time approaches in the region.

But France wanted otherwise and said no. French foreign policy seems to be in a rather sorry state at the moment - disoriented after the Non in the referendum, and apprehensive towards a European development it doesn't really control any more.

In public remarks the French foreign minister hinted that it was more of a short-term thing, indicating that in six months time there could be a reassessment of the entire question of an accession strategy for the Western Balkans. Whether this would mean that it would then be no to everyone, or perhaps yes to everyone, was left as unclear as many other things.

And to some extent there is no doubt that France has taken Macedonia hostage to its stance on the EU budget negotiations. Keen to protect its farm subsidies, it's threathening to block everything else.

I don't think this is a policy that long-term protects French interests by creating allies and friends. Rather on the contrary.

And I'm certain that it is a policy hurting the Balkans and Europe's important role there.