Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama review the guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at the Palace of Brigades in Tirana, Albania. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2019

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

  • A handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt ‘really embarrassed’ but urged the two countries not to lose heart

BRUSSELS: The EU has made a “historic mistake” that risks destabilising the Balkans, senior officials warned Friday, after a handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
There was widespread frustration and disappointment, particularly among eastern European countries keen to broaden the EU club, at the failure of the 28 leaders to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Leaders were deadlocked after some seven hours of heated backroom wrangling at a Brussels summit, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
“It’s a major historic mistake and I hope it will only be temporary and won’t become engraved in the collective memory as a historic mistake,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner who has led efforts to push the two countries to reform to fit EU norms, said it had left the bloc’s credibility damaged “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond.”
“This is a matter of extreme disappointment,” he tweeted.
“To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU.”
North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski urged his people to push on with reform despite the disappointment, while his Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov urged the EU to come clean about its true intentions.
“If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans... the citizens deserve to know,” he tweeted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would look again at the matter before a summit with Western Balkans leaders in Zagreb early next year.
The summit deadlock came days after EU ministers hit a similar impasse at talks in Luxembourg — following two earlier delays by EU countries on making a decision.
Apart from France, all the other EU states accept that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms — including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — to start talks.
But Albania has less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing serious reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said the summit failure was “extremely regrettable.”
“I have spoken to the two prime ministers to express my great disappointment, and they are also extremely disappointed,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“This is not a good sign for the solidarity of the EU or the stability of the region.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt “really embarrassed” but urged the two countries not to lose heart, saying he had “absolutely no doubt” they would one day join the bloc.
“Both countries, they passed their exams, I can’t say this about our member states,” Tusk said.
The European Commission has said both countries have done enough to at least begin talks, but Macron now says this should not happen until the whole accession process has been reformed, arguing that it does not work properly.
But diplomats suspect the French are playing tough for domestic political reasons linked to immigration, and there is frustration that Macron appears to be trying to move the goalposts.
“These countries deserve it, they fulfil the criteria, the momentum is right,” said one diplomatic source.
“It’s not fair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”
Another said “there’s no logic to it. It’s incoherent — an excuse.”
After the earlier failure in Luxembourg another diplomat accused France of “repeating the same stupid arguments again and again,” warning Paris would bear “responsibility for the consequences of this.”
Politicians in North Macedonia and Albania have warned that their people’s patience with the EU is not unlimited and repeated rejections risk emboldening nationalist and pro-Russian forces.


Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

Updated 14 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.

Related