Wed, 20 Jan 2021

European Union leaders are meeting again on October 18 in Brussels to discuss the bloc's budget and climate change.

The bloc's leaders wrapped up the first day of their summit in Brussels without making any decisions about the potential membership of North Macedonia and Albania, as France and two other states insisted that the Western Balkan nations were not ready to join the bloc.

'There are no conclusions today,' Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne said early on October 18.

'I hope that it's possible to reach an agreement,' he added.

'There is a certain disappointment. We must admit we failed to reach consensus because three states refused to invite both countries to start negotiations,' Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters, referring to France, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

The status of talks on the potential membership of the two nations remained unclear ahead of the second and final day of the summit.

Rinne said the discussions would continue later on October 18, but Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU leaders would revisit the matter at a subsequent summit.

The hopes of the two nations took a major blow on October 15 when the bloc's European affairs ministers failed to give the go-ahead to begin membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters in Luxembourg following a meeting of the ministers that 'It was not a moment of glory for Europe.'

Hahn said an 'overwhelming majority' of EU members supported the Commission's recommendation that talks begin but that they could not reach the required unanimous decision.

It was the third time -- following similar outcomes in June 2018 and June 2019 -- that the bloc's ministers failed to reach unanimity.

Several sources who asked not to be identified told RFE/RL that France played a key role in blocking the start of official accession talks with the two small nations.

France and the Netherlands, in particular, have expressed reluctance to open the door to new members over concerns about corruption and the standards of the rule of law in the applicant nations.

French European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said Paris was 'not saying no,' but that Albania and North Macedonia had not yet completely undertaken reforms required of them.

However, other nations have expressed concerns that delays over membership could aid attempts by Russia or China to increase their influence in the region.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to her parliament in Berlin on October 17, pressed her EU counterparts to move faster on bringing in the two nations into the bloc and to quickly integrate them.

No decision is expected on October 18 on the bloc's next long-term budget for 2021-2027, a topic observers say is more divisive than Brexit.

On climate, the summit will continue talks on its goal of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 and leaders will also discuss the agenda of priorities set up by incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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