The European Council and Euro Summit meetings of December 10-11 concluded without reference to the subject of EU Enlargement since the earlier General Affairs Council meeting on December 8 reached no consensus on moving the process forward. December is always a busy time and multiple higher priority issues absorbed much of the Council’s attention this year. Accordingly, the situation in regard to Enlargement remains where it was frozen in November.
With Germany’s Council Presidency, which had prioritized Enlargement, set to end in a few weeks, Albania and North Macedonia face the prospect of an extended waiting period until serious work can resume under Portugal’s Council Presidency with a major summit set for March 2021. For Southeastern Europe, the question of launching the accession process via the so-called “intergovernmental conferences” remains relatively urgent. Fortunately, in July 2021 Slovenia will assume the Council Presidency, guaranteeing regional issues will again become a central focus if Portugal does not succeed.
Time will tell when political conditions and election schedules permit a resolution of the Bulgaria-North Macedonia dispute over the two countries’ languages and histories which should open the way for the required intergovernmental conference. It remains unclear as well whether decisions will be taken to allow Albania to launch its accession process through an intergovernmental conference before North Macedonia receives the green light. Curiously, we have seen no indication of any American intervention in the Bulgaria-North Macedonia dispute, which many observers would find unusual; expect this to change after January.
The final months of 2020 supplied interested readers with a substantial deluge of anti-Bulgarian messaging, mostly in the form of op-eds generated by NGOs involved in the Enlargement business and their associated media outlets. On occasion, an important personage has been drafted to sign one of these documents, which all seem to share the common theme that innocent and democratic North Macedonia, the perfect Balkan neighbor, is the victim of unprovoked Bulgarian bullying. There is no reason to expect this onslaught will drop off until a solution that allows the Enlargement process to move forward is found.
Bulgarian government entities, especially those close to the EU in Brussels, should focus on controlling and possibly even restricting the EU funds that are being supplied to a number of those “Bulgaria-bashing” NGOs across Southeastern Europe and also to constrain certain supposedly free media outlets receiving EU financial support. While relatively mild, the kind of name-calling found in many of the articles and letters circulated recently is certainly not what EU taxpayers intend for their EU contributions.