Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
Article by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, for „Die Welt“ on 05.11.2019
Staatsminister Michael Roth, © AA - Susie Knoll
Yes, we need to reform the European Union! But this process to deepen the EU which is
clearly overdue is not incompatible with its enlargement. A larger EU that is at the same
time more capable, self-assured and democratic can create more security for its people.
That is why the outgoing EU Commission President Juncker is completely right to call it a
„historic mistake“ that the EU heads of state and government refused to give the go-ahead
to the planned launch of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. The
decision would have needed a unanimous vote. People were shocked by this repeated
postponement – both in the Balkans and in the EU. After all, the EU has given its word. The
two countries have fulfilled the conditions set by the EU, as long since confirmed in the
reports by the European Commission.
Our primary goal has to be to do all we can in the Western Balkans to promote peace,
reconciliation and democracy. After all, the region is not the backyard of Europe, as it were,
it is at its heart. Stabilising and drawing the region closer is in the primordial interest of both
Germany and the EU. If the EU turns its back on the Western Balkans, it leaves the field open
to other actors such as Russia, China or Turkey whose primary interest is certainly not to
bolster democracy and the rule of law.
A positive decision would have sent the right message: the EU is serious about its
responsibility for the whole of Europe and the Western Balkan’s prospect of accession. And
it would have paid tribute to the fact that Albania and North Macedonia have moved
mountains and consistently pushed ahead with reform. In both countries, the population
and governments have proven time and again that they are prepared to make painful
compromises to move closer to the EU.
The repeated postponement does serious damage to the EU’s credibility. In the region, it is
strengthening the forces which have no interest in reform and progress. North Macedonia’s
head of government Zaev has now announced his resignation with elections scheduled for
April. The danger is that there will be a resurgence in nationalism, a re-opening of healed
wounds and ethnic conflict.
It is a bitter setback to see the launch of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North
Macedonia now being prevented due to the opposition of individual member states. Burying
heads in the sand would be the wrong thing to do now. In spring 2020, the issue is to return
to the agenda of the EU heads of state and government. Then we need to be unequivocally
clear that we uphold the prospect of accession. It would be irresponsible to allow further
Meanwhile, North Macedonia and Albania need to maintain their commitment to reform.
That is the best way to thwart the sceptics. At the same time, we need to do our homework
in the EU and work out how to deal with the reservations of individual member states. The
EU has long since learnt its lesson after giving the go-ahead too quickly on occasion in early
enlargement rounds. We have reworked the methodology underpinning the enlargement
processes and are now putting major emphasis on democracy and the rule of law.
In the months to come, we need to step up cooperation with both countries. The EU needs
to be more visible in the Western Balkans. The new European Commission needs to finally
make the region a top priority! We can help them by providing experts who can push ahead
with the necessary reforms. Turning to the Berlin Process, we should engage more and
invest more in regional cooperation. What is more, we need to bolster the Western Balkans
Youth Office so we can win over the young generation as ambassadors of peace and
reconciliation. The Western Balkans remains a litmus test for the lasting success of the
European model. We aren’t going to make Europe better by breaking our word.
Michael Roth has been a Member of the German Bundestag (SPD) since 1998 and Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office since 2013.