France is not questioning the EU membership prospects of the Western Balkans but wants to be sure that conditions for the launching of membership talks are met and that the process itself proves to be useful, with good results visible on the ground as soon as possible, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, said during a visit to Zagreb on Thursday.
Montchalin made the statement after talks with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, commenting on France's decision not to support the opening of EU membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania at a recent meeting of the European Council.
Montchalin went on to say that the negotiating process was not just a mere filling in of questionnaires and not just a legal and administrative process but a process that brought European added value on the ground.
The accession process is a very long, frustrating process as can be seen on the example of Serbia and Montenegro, and we can see that the process that is already very long is not at the level of expectations of those countries and their citizens or at the level of the EU's expectations, the French official said, stressing that France saw an urgent need for stronger economic and social development and development in the areas of education and innovation.
We expect that development now and not in 15 years' time, she said.
She also said that at the European Council held on October 17 and 18 France did not veto any decision but that there were many different views on further EU enlargement and accession to the European bloc.
The reality is that there was no consensus in those debates, she said.
As for the influence of foreign countries on the region, she said that Europe should work on its sovereignty which was not only about military power but also about the investment capacity and the installment of own infrastructure with European companies.
Sovereignty also means being able to act together. Foreign influences happen all the time, including now. And they also happen in EU countries and the enlargement process will not stop those influences, they will not disappear, Montchalin said, dismissing criticism that the failure to launch talks with the two countries was a mistake Europe could pay for dearly because it would result in an increase in the influence of global powers such as Russia, China and Turkey.
She also said that North Macedonia and Albania not having been given the green light to start EU entry talks would not jeopardise European security.
As for security, Montchalin said that the EU had to know how to analyse the world as it was in order to decide on its own what to do.
We do have allies and we will not do it always on our own. But we have to have a strong, consistent, united European voice, she said, adding that the US and China expected the EU to be strong and powerful.
She said that this was much more important and relevant for France than the enlargement process itself.
From the start of his term French President Emmanuel Macron has not hidden his position that Europe is not ready for another enlargement round and that it first has to reform its institutions and then radically reform the negotiating process.
Apart from France, reservations about the opening of talks with Albania and North Macedonia have also been expressed by the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as, as those familiar with the situation in Brussels claim, by some other countries that do not want to state it openly but shift the burden of the blockade onto France.
According to the latest Eurobarometer, 46% of Europeans are against a new enlargement round, 44% support the accession of new members and 10% are undecided.
Further EU enlargement is one of the priorities of Croatia's presidency of the EU in the first half of 2020.