Collateral Damages in the Power Struggle

BERLIN/PARIS | | frankreich

BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) - Franco-German power struggles are blocking further EU expansion plans and overshadowing the EU-summit, which begins today in Brussels. Berlin is pushing hard for opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania to prevent these two countries from turning their backs on the Union - which brings them little advantage - and turn instead toward other powers such as China and Russia, with whom cooperation promises greater benefits. Paris is rejecting Berlin's demand. As long as the German government rejects French projects, such as a euro zone budget, France is simply unwilling to bow to Germany's wishes, one hears in Paris. The discussion on accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania will be continued at the summit. Whereas the EU remains bogged down, Beijing and Moscow, - but also Washington - are seeking to strengthen their positions in Southeast Europe.

Against Moscow and Beijing

Germany's insistence on opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania is based on geostrategic considerations. For a long time, Berlin has shown no increased interest in integrating these two countries as full members of the EU, because it would, above all, be costly and bring no material advantage, considering this region's weak economic clout and abject poverty. Berlin began to reconsider its position, once China had organized its first "16+1" summit with 16 countries from Eastern and Southeastern Europe in April 2012, thus initiating closer cooperation, even with the so-called Western Balkan countries, which are non-EU members. Since then, Beijing's influence in the region has been increasing. Russia also began to continuously strengthen its position in some of the Southeast European countries (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[1]), thus prompting the German government to organize its first "Western Balkan Conference" in Berlin, in late August 2014. The conference has since been annually organized in alternating EU countries, with the aim of binding, if possible, all non-EU Southeast European countries closer to the Union, to prevent their turning toward Moscow and Beijing.

The Bait: EU Accession

For quite some time, however, considerable doubts have persisted about whether a less binding and, for Southeast European countries hardly beneficial cooperation - as the one within the framework of the Western Balkan Conferences - would be sufficient. China is wooing with attractive offers, for example, a plan to expand the railroad from Greece through North Macedonia to Serbia within the framework of the Silk-Road project ("Belt and Road Initiative", BRI). The railroad from there to Budapest is already in the process of modernization, on China’s initiative. The project is raising high hopes in Skopje. In this context, Berlin has concluded that the "Western Balkan" countries must inevitably be offered the prospect of opening accession talks, if they are to remain loyal to the EU. This is why, on September 26, the German Bundestag approved an early start of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. It is regularly noted, however, that such negotiations could last many years and become frozen at any time, thus providing absolutely no guarantees for North Macedonia and Albania.

Not only for Berlin

However, Paris is now resisting. The French government refuses to consent to the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia. It is receiving indirect support in this move from the Netherlands and Denmark, who both reject opening negotiations with Albania. Given the fact that both talks are due to begin simultaneously, this has resulted in a triple veto. Officially, Paris contends that the EU must first of all consolidate and deepen its institutions before it considers a new round of expansion. The internal problems Brussels has to confront are currently far too numerous - ranging from the Brexit and warding off refugees to the growing discrepancies between Eastern and Western Europe. An insider has made known that France could change its position if Germany would take on French ideas for the reform of the euro zone.[2] In fact, the German government has systematically torpedoed all of Paris' plans - from the introduction of a euro zone budget to the creation of an euro Minister of Finances, as well as other French projects, ranging from the introduction of a digital tax, to attributing greater importance to North Africa in EU foreign policy. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) President Emmanuel Macron has begun to defend himself and to erect counter-blockades.

Russia as an Alternative

Therefore, the Franco-German power struggle is blocking the route of Berlin and the EU's hegemonic aspirations in two ways. On the one hand, observers are warning of setbacks in Skopje. Last year, and early this year, the country was renamed to North Macedonia - in spite of massive domestic resistance to the change - thanks to massive interference by the EU and the USA, and with the help of manipulations by dubious domestic forces. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[4]) The decisive bait had been the perspective of becoming an EU member with hopes of having access to the financial resources that this permits. If this prospect vanishes, it would not only mean that Brussels does not keep its word, but also that Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's EU-oriented government would massively lose its support. Pro-Russian forces in Skopje's opposition party VMRO-DPMNE could only profit.[5]

Greater Albania

In the case of Albania, observers are warning that the feeling of rejection by the EU could boost forces with other plans, such as the creation of a Greater Albania, particularly those in favor of revising borders.[6] The demand for fusing with Kosovo is growing louder not only in Albania, proper, but in Pristina as well, where the "Vetëvendosje!" (Self-determination) party won 25.6 percent in the October 6 parliamentary elections. The party's chair, Albin Kurti seeks Kosovo's fusion with Albania.[7] There is a good chance that Kurti will be a member of Kosovo's next government.

"Malign Influences"

Whereas the EU remains bogged down, Washington is developing new activities in Southeast Europe. US President Donald Trump has named the US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, to be the US special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo. Grenell is supposed to bring momentum into the talks between Belgrade and the seceded southern Serbian province.[8] The diplomat has already held his first round of negotiations. In addition, during a visit to North Macedonia, on October 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly called on Skopje to ward off the “malign influence" of "Russian trolls" and "China's bribe-heavy strategy for infrastructure deals,” and focus instead on joining NATO."[9] North Macedonia's integration into the West's war alliance would strengthen Washington's position in Southeastern Europe, while Berlin's attempts to consolidate its own standing in the region, with a new round of EU expansion, could be shattered by the Union's internal dispute - at least, if the German government persists in outright refusing to allow Paris to pursue its interests in the EU.

 

[1] See also Ein Kompass für Südosteuropa.

[2] Georgi Gotev: France halts EU enlargement. euractiv.com 16.10.2019.

[3] See also New Confrontations (II).

[4] See also NATO's Thirthieth Member.

[5], [6] Georgi Gotev: France halts EU enlargement. euractiv.com 16.10.2019.

[7] Michael Martens: Sturz der Freischärler. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 08.10.2019.

[8] Judith Mischke: Trump names Ric Grenell his special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo. politico.eu 04.10.2019.

[9] Pompeo Warns North Macedonia On "Russian Trolls," Chinese Investment, Upbeat On NATO. rferl.org 04.10.2019.