In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron vetoed against opening EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. He argued that "We need a reformed European Union and a reformed enlargement process, a real credibility and a strategic vision of who we are and our role". Jean-Claude Juncker, then President of the European Commission, called this decision a "big historic mistake".
In the meantime, the enlargement process has changed: Instead of chapters, candidate countries and the EU now open thematic clusters. But has this also changed the French position?
Yesterday, Macron gave a speech at the European Parliament presenting the goals of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which France has been holding since the beginning of the year. In this speech, he also addressed the Western Balkans and stressed that Europe cannot turn its back to the Western Balkans.
"The Western Balkans are geographically and historically, for their tragic past and a greater future, at the heart of the European continent. They have wounds that show us how fragile peace can be and how strong our Union can be. That is why today we want to think about our relations with Western Balkan countries and give them a clear perspective of accession to the European Union".
However, he reiterated his position that despite the modernisation of the negotiation process, it is not the current Europe with its existing rules of operation that can become a Europe of 31, 32 or 33.
In the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, he suggested rethinking the existing rules, making them clearer and easier. Macron also called for political sincerity about the framework of this Europe in which the Western Balkans have their place.
"That is why the Conference on the Future of Europe should be followed by a conference on the Western Balkans, dealing with these crucial topics", Macron said.