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Emmanuel Macron’s Balkan Betrayal

French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to block Albania and North Macedonia's EU-membership bids has brought a symbolic end to the post-1989 era. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, both European and US leaders had recognized that an orderly expansion of the European project is key to European peace and prosperity.

DENVER – Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, Western leaders have consistently maintained that there are no problems on the European continent that cannot be addressed through engagement with the European Union or an expansion of the European project. But that longstanding outlook seems to be changing, owing to a combination of internal EU woes and American indifference.

It may seem awkward that the United States would encourage membership in someone else’s club in the first place. But from its leadership position within NATO – the premier European security organization – the US has always been supportive of European efforts to consolidate political and economic unity on the continent. And the EU, for its part, has recognized that membership in the bloc is a logical aspiration for the post-Soviet countries on its periphery. While deepening and enlarging the structures of the EU has proved to be more difficult than many US observers realized, European leaders have soldiered on, not least because that is what was expected of them in the context of post-Cold War history.

But the European Council’s recent meeting on October 17-18 provided confirmation that something has changed: French President Emmanuel Macron made the fateful decision to block EU accession talks with Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia. With the United Kingdom leaving the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel retiring from politics, Macron is the heir apparent to European leadership. But his reasoning on the question of EU expansion is opaque. Many, even in the conspiracy-minded Balkans, assume that Macron simply has no appetite for the difficult process of taking on two more member states from a still-troublesome region, given the internal challenges already facing the EU.

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