France wants EU expansion freeze amid Balkans war warning

French President Emmanuel Macron laid it on the line for the European Parliament when he stated: “I don’t want a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia, but I don’t want a Europe that, functioning with difficulty at 28 and tomorrow as 27, would decide that we can continue to gallop off, to be tomorrow 30 or 32, with the same rules.” (Reuters)
Updated 18 April 2018
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France wants EU expansion freeze amid Balkans war warning

  • Accession to the 28-nation EU has been a powerful driver of political and democratic reform in countries like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro — which recently joined NATO — Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo.
  • EU and Balkans leaders will meet in Bulgaria on May 17, but no country in the region is likely to be invited to join, even though some are involved in membership negotiations.

Brussels: French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday ruled out any expansion of the European Union until the bloc is reformed, as a top EU official warned that the volatile Balkans could face a return to war if countries in the region have no hope of joining.
The Balkans spiraled into conflict in the 1990s as former Yugoslavia broke apart, but ethnic and nationalist tensions continue to simmer more than 20 years on.
EU member states must agree unanimously for any country to become a member. Accession to the 28-nation EU has been a powerful driver of political and democratic reform in countries like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro — which recently joined NATO — Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo.
But with Britain set to become the first country to leave the bloc next year, Macron told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France that “I will only support an enlargement when there is first a deepening and a reform of our Europe.”
“I don’t want a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia, but I don’t want a Europe that, functioning with difficulty at 28 and tomorrow as 27, would decide that we can continue to gallop off, to be tomorrow 30 or 32, with the same rules,” he said.
But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whose institution recommends whether countries should be allowed in, insisted that Europe’s door must remain open.
“If we remove from these countries, in this extremely complicated region, I should say tragically, a European perspective, we are going to live what we already went through in the 1990s,” Juncker said. “I don’t want a return to war in the Western Balkans.”
When he took over at the European Commission four years ago, Juncker vowed that there would be no EU enlargement during his term.
EU and Balkans leaders will meet in Bulgaria on May 17, but no country in the region is likely to be invited to join, even though some are involved in membership negotiations.
Turkey is also a candidate for membership and has been promised fast-track accession negotiations in exchange for ensuring that tens of thousands of migrants — many of them Syrian refugees — don’t enter Europe from its territory. However, the talks are at a virtual standstill.
Countries like France, Germany and Austria would prefer some kind of “privileged partnership” with Turkey to letting it join.


Erdogan, Merkel to meet amid tensions, protests

Updated 2 min 23 sec ago
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Erdogan, Merkel to meet amid tensions, protests

  • It will be Erdogan’s first official visit to Germany since becoming president in 2014
  • Some 10,000 people are expected to rally under the motto “Erdogan Not Welcome” in Berlin on Friday alone

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a state visit to Germany this week as the two countries seek to rebuild ties after a series of sharp spats but the controversial trip is likely to be overshadowed by protests.
It will be Erdogan’s first official visit to Germany since becoming president in 2014, and follows a prolonged bout of tensions sparked by Berlin’s criticism of his crackdown on opponents in the wake of a failed 2016 coup.
“The main goal of this visit is to completely leave behind this period (of tensions),” Erdogan told Turkish media.
The Turkish leader will land in Berlin Thursday and hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel over the following two days.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will welcome him with military honors and a state dinner at Bellevue Palace on Friday — which several opposition politicians have vowed to boycott. Merkel too will be notably absent.
On Saturday, Erdogan will travel to Cologne to open one of Europe’s largest mosques, commissioned by the Turkish-controlled Ditib organization.
Commentators have been quick to point out that Erdogan’s push for a fresh start comes as the Turkish economy is struggling and relations with the United States have worsened.
Thousands of Erdogan critics have vowed to take to the streets across Germany to protest everything from Turkey’s record on human rights and press freedom to its offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria.
Some 10,000 people are expected to rally under the motto “Erdogan Not Welcome” in Berlin on Friday alone.
With no shortage of political and economic issues hanging over the visit, the shadow of football also looms large.
Turkey and Germany are locked in a bitter race to host the Euro 2024 tournament, with the winner to be announced the day Erdogan arrives.
Germany’s bid has been clouded by Turkish-origin player Mesut Ozil’s resignation from the national team over perceived racism — a move praised by Erdogan.
Relations between the two NATO countries plummeted after Turkish authorities arrested tens of thousands of people in a mass purge over the attempted putsch against Erdogan, including some who were also German nationals.
But a gradual rapprochement began after German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was freed earlier this year, while journalist Mesale Tolu was allowed to return to Germany last month. Both still face terror-related charges in Turkey.
Merkel, whose country is home to a three-million-strong Turkish community, has repeatedly stressed the importance of good relations with Ankara, a partner she relies on to help stem the flow of migrants arriving on European shores.
But Germany’s best-selling Bild newspaper said it was too soon to roll out the red carpet for Erdogan, who just 18 months ago accused Berlin of “Nazi practices” for blocking rallies supporting him ahead of a referendum that gave him sweeping new powers.
“Now that Turkey is grappling with a currency crisis and its economy has hit rock-bottom, Erdogan wants to be our friend again,” it said in an editorial.
“This is too much pomp and ceremony for Erdogan. We’re not there yet.”
Erdogan said he would use the visit to press Germany for “more efficiency” in the fight against “terrorist groups” like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the movement of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the coup.
Other topics on the agenda will likely be Turkey’s stalled EU membership bid and its role in the conflict in Syria.
To help smooth over the diplomatic reset, Erdogan could dangle the promise of a major project to modernize Turkey’s rail infrastructure.
Der Spiegel weekly reported that German giant Siemens was in talks to lead the potential 35-billion-euro deal ($40 billion), but it was unclear whether Berlin would help finance it.
In a sign of the contentious nature of his visit, Erdogan is not scheduled to make any big public speeches in Germany.
Die Welt reporter Yucel, who spent over a year behind Turkish bars, condemned Berlin for “inviting a criminal to a banquet.”
“The German government is betraying all those in Turkey who long for a free, democratic and secular society,” he said.