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.


If you’re happy and you know it, tidy up: Seoul guru explains the key to decluttering

Updated 15 August 2020

If you’re happy and you know it, tidy up: Seoul guru explains the key to decluttering

  • “My focus of tidying up is not throwing away but organizing for space,” said Jung
  • Jung enjoys a huge fan base on social media - one video on how to clean a dresser was watched 1.2 million times

SEOUL: Keep it if it makes you happy, South Korea’s tidying consultant Jung Hee-sook tells her clients as the first step for a less cluttered and more meaningful life.
“I feel most rewarded when my clients say they live happier lives after decluttering their houses,” Jung, 49, told Arab News.
It was not an easy journey to begin with she says, reminiscing about the start of her career in 2012.
“My job was often regarded as merely part of cleaning work. Tidying up is such a meaningful job that can help others in need and help people to live better,” she added.
Eight years on, she has decluttered 2,000 homes and counting, and says for that to happen it’s imperative to “read the client first.”
She cites the example of a woman who was determined to tidy up her home, not to give it a makeover but to “make life easier for her family.”
“When I visited her house, I noticed the lights dimming and curtains were still drawn. I got the sense that this family had some problems. During consulting, I learnt that the client was going blind. She wanted to tidy up her home before losing her sight to help her husband find items easily for their child,” Jung said, adding that it was one of her “most rewarding experiences.”
Often compared to Marie Kondo, the Japanese author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” who enjoys a massive following across the world, Jung says her approach to tidying is different from the one propagated by Kondo, who places a priority on getting rid of anything that does not “spark joy.”
“My focus of tidying up is not throwing away but organizing for space,” said Jung, who has written two books on the topic, “Smart Tidying Ways” and “The Best Interior is in Organizing.” “You can keep your items if you don’t want to throw them away, but the bottom line is you have to organize them for use instead of leaving them unattended or stacked up in the corner.”


South Korea seems to be listening.
Jung enjoys a huge fan base on social media — one video from November last year on how to clean a dresser was watched 1.2 million times on YouTube — while her high-profile clients include CEOs and celebrities such as K-POP girl group Mamamoo’s Hwasa.
Experts point to the country’s unique concept of “jeong” to explain Jung’s popularity.
“It’s like an old grandmother piling plate upon plate of food in front of their grandchild to the point where they feel they might burst,” said Kwak Keum-joo, professor of psychology at the Seoul National University, explaining the national “attachment to objects.”
He said that the majority of people lay great emphasis on materialistic stuff as a benchmark of social status.
Jung agrees. “Korean people possess things to show off their wealth or social reputation. Most distinctively, they feel an attachment to objects,” she said.
Changes in consumer behavior, Kwak said, are also a key factor for the rising trends of house decluttering as well.
“In the past, most Koreans were brought up to save money and conserve things, but now they’re spending money if they have it, and they can purchase things fast and conveniently online at any time,” she said.
Jung says the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown helped to accelerate the decluttering process as well.
“People were staying home longer than before and paying more attention to tidying up their spaces at homes,” she said.
Jung’s top tip for starting is to take everything out and prioritize items based on their usage or emotional attachment.
“The thing is to sort out items and put them in separate spaces. People think it looks clean when you don’t see objects, but real organizing means sorting out the hidden things,” she said.
Next, Jung wants to take her teachings to the rest of the world.
“I hope to establish the right culture of decluttering to make people’s lives happier, not just in South Korea but in foreign countries as well. I am confident that the life of my clients has changed for the better after decluttering their houses.”