Mr Macron was the only EU leader to oppose North Macedonia’s entry into the bloc whilst Paris was joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in thwarting Albania’s attempts to join the 28 current member states. Justifying the shock move, President Macron said the accession process itself had to be reformed and that the EU “should do more to help those countries develop, not just make pledges”. But James Rogers of the Henry Jackson Society tells Express.co.uk that this was a “profound mistake” that will help President Putin expand Russian influence in Eastern Europe.
He said: “We know that the French have never been particularly keen on the idea of enlargement, there have been a number of statements made by various French leaders over the years that have agitated Eastern European countries.
“There has always been this hostility, this idea that enlarging the EU was something that France didn’t want.
“France doesn’t see the Balkans or Eastern Europe as a whole as a priority, and therefore it is trying to claw the EU away from further enlargement.
“It is also possible that the French are beginning to think, as Britain leaves the EU, that they are going to be left as the only nuclear weapons state in the EU, and they will be thinking ‘do we really want to take responsibility for all of these countries?’
“I think the idea that enlargement is something to be avoided is a profound mistake, it is allowing these vacuums to be left wide open like seen in Ukraine and Moldova, this invites hostile actors like the Russians.”
With Russia and China look to increasing their influence in the region, North Macedonia are pursuing stronger integration with the Western allies to help bolster their defence against outside interference.
They are already in accession talks to join NATO and will hope to see a solution to their EU issue soon.
Internal issues in the six countries, such as ethnic tensions, corruption and deficient law-enforcement give arguments to European politicians sceptical about enlargement of the EU.
Concerns also surround the openness of some Balkan states to foreign investment, irrespective of strings attached and of compliance of their projects with EU policies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the enlargement of the EU into the Balkan region as a “destructive policy”.
But this overt statement of intent from Moscow hasn’t prevented Mr Macron from trying to calm tensions between Russia and NATO.
He said at a joint news conference in Paris alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg last week: “Is our enemy today Russia? Or China? Is it the goal of NATO to designate them as enemies? I don’t believe so.”
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This came after he referred to the alliance as suffering from “brain death”, culminating in a clash with President Trump during the NATO summit in London.
Mr Rogers told Express.co.uk that France simply doesn’t see Russia as a security priority.
He said: “I think it has always been clear that the French and other southern European nations have a different idea on security that the UK or US does.
“France’s historical priority is in North Africa, but in recent years NATO has swung round to focus on increasingly on the Baltic states in relation to the influence of Russia, whereas France doesn’t see Russia as such a threat.”
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