Macron’s ‘Historic Mistake’

Yiannis Baboulias

Metternich is supposed to have once said that ‘Asia begins at the Landstrasse’ (or ‘the Balkans begin at the Rennweg’). The idea that the Balkan peninsula and its patchwork of nations are somehow not part of Europe lives on. Last month, Emmanuel Macron vetoed the opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

Angela Merkel said the EU should ‘keep its promises’ and begin the negotiations. Jean-Claude Juncker described the French president’s irresponsible decision as a ‘historic mistake’. For once, the phrase may be an understatement. Whatever progress has been made in the Balkans in recent decades, following years of war, turmoil and clashing nationalisms, was explicitly tied to a promise that eventually these countries would join the European Union. In order to pander to a domestic audience that largely disapproves of his record in office, Macron broke this promise.

The North Macedonian prime minister, Zoran Zaev, was immediately forced to call early elections. He had invested a huge amount of political capital in the Prespa Agreement with Greece: he agreed to change his country’s name, and Athens in exchange agreed to lift its veto, opening a path to Nato and EU membership.

Zaev’s main offer to voters had been to bring North Macedonia into Europe and rid it of corruption. Macron has handed a precious gift to his opponents, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, who are leading the polls. If they come to power, an end to the Prespa deal is a real possibility. It would be welcomed by nationalists in Greece, too, some of whom are now in government in Athens. With the Balkans occupying a central position in the global far-right imaginary, a strengthening of nationalisms in the region can’t be anything but bad news.

Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, has said that the EU’s refusal to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania justifies his policy of forging closer ties with China and Russia. Macron told the Economist last week that ‘what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of Nato’. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán seized on the comments. ‘In 1999 we thought Nato could secure us,’ he said today. ‘But now, even President Macron said Nato is “brain dead”. We see that neighbours are buying weapons, we need to develop our army more.’

This week the president of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, was in France for the Paris Peace Forum. He met with Macron for ‘short but very dynamic’ talks, he said, and the French president ‘asssured’ him that they are facing ‘only a technical delay’ while the EU thinks about ‘revising the methodology for accession talks’. He expects a decision after the EU Council meeting at the end of March next year. North Macedonia’s elections are scheduled for 12 April.


  • 15 November 2019 at 4:19am
    FoolCount says:
    I am somewhat mystified by this seemingly overwhelming earning of the poorest Europeans to join and remain in the EU. They would endure all kinds of indignities, rename their countries, suffer terrible austerity, cut by half their own salaries and pensions, buy their food from Germany and France, sell their parents and children for that. One country - Ukraine - even destroyed itself not even for EU membership but for a mere dream of attaining it in some distant future. Perhaps, the logic here is that by virtue of EU membership they presume to become protected from exploitation by the Western capitalists (out of solidarity or pity?) and maybe even get in on that racket themselves? That would have made some sense, if we did not see how it all worked out for their Bulgarian or Romanian predecessors, or even for the Greeks. I don't know who does PR for that EU entity, but I want those people spruiking my products. Anyone knows how to get in touch with them?

    • 15 November 2019 at 12:09pm
      Reader says: @ FoolCount
      The reason for poor countries to join the EU has been to get access for their agricultural products to the vast Western European market.

      Greece has endured terrible hardships, but that was not down to joining the EU as such but becoming part of the Euro zone. And the underlying cause was not really even the Euro, but the decades of corruption and misgovernment in Greece that had preceded joining. The stress of being unable to print extra drachmas on demand brought out the underlying chronic crisis, and made it acute.

      As for your comment about Ukraine "destroying itself" for the sake of joining the EU, it is a bizarre claim, but it is interesting that you should make it. Ukraine is not destroying itself, it is being destroyed - or that seems to be the aim at least - by Russia.

      We read all the time about Russian troll factories, but I have never come across an actual Russian troll in action. I suppose you're not one yourself, are you? I merely ask, because your hostility to the EU combined with your specific comment about Ukraine seems to fit the profile very well.

    • 15 November 2019 at 12:18pm
      Delaide says: @ Reader
      Well spotted re Foolcount. He has form.

    • 15 November 2019 at 11:22pm
      FoolCount says: @ Reader
      Of course, I am. Everyone whose opinion you disagree with is. That is well established now and quite convenient for simplifying any argument - just copy and paste the same accusation and win every time.

    • 18 November 2019 at 11:25am
      Reader says: @ FoolCount
      An interesting response.

      If genuine, FoolCount would, if possible, have addressed and rebutted the points made in my posting, and showed that his arguments were valid. A troll, on the other hand, would try to deflect the argument away from the issue of substance (that Ukraine is a victim of Russian aggression, for example) and towards a side-issue: whether or not FoolCount is a professional propagandist on behalf of the Russian government.

      But, FoolCount, if I am wrong and your are genuine (and I held that possibility open in my post), you have a good way of proving it: give reasons why the statements in the first three paragraphs of my post are false. If you fail to do so, I will regard my speculation (at present, no more than that) as confirmed.

      The ball is in your court.

    • 19 November 2019 at 3:37am
      FoolCount says: @ Reader
      Ok, I'll bite, though I couldn't care less about any 'speculations' of yours and your ilk. So I am not writing it for you, but on an off chance that someone more reasonable and less thoroughly brainwashed by imperial propaganda might read it. You sound too far gone - pretty much a lost cause - but reading LRB comment section is not entirely bleak, with many readers still capable of critical thinking and even cogent writing occasionally.

      Almost everything in your first three paragraph is either a stupidity or a lie. In any case those are just baseless declarations, whose refutation, kept at the same level of argument should simply go - no, it ain't.

      Let's start with this gem: "Ukraine is not destroying itself, it is being destroyed - or that seems to be the aim at least - by Russia". Says who? Was it Russia who instigated a violent coup spearheaded by neo-nazis even after the agreement was made between the government and opposition for an early election? Was it Russia who forced Ukrainian government to outlaw the use of Russian language in Ukraine, to close schools, radio and TV stations, newspapers operating in Russian? Was it Russia who made the Kiev junta attack and bomb their own people for refusing to recognise the results of that coup and immediate introduction of anti-Russian language laws? The notion that Ukraine is being attacked or destroyed by Russia is ridiculous on its face - only the most dishonest propagandists or their victims like yourself would make such a claim. If Russia really attacked Ukraine, that war would have been over in under 48 hours with a regime change in Kiev.

      Now moving on to this racist wisdom: "The reason for poor countries to join the EU has been to get access for their agricultural products to the vast Western European market." That stupidity is put to rest by a single trip to a German, French or UK supermarket with a goal of buying any food items produced in Lithuania, Bulgaria or Slovakia - all proud EU members. They all sold more of their foodstuffs to Russia than to EU. At least they did until the anti-Russian sanctions and reciprocal embargo.

      Now on to Greece. Well, here you may have a small point that being in the Eurozone did not help. But infatuation with the Euro, which Greeks would not give up even under threat of starvation and destitution, is of the same psychologically irrational nature as the more general EU-philia. To put it bluntly - just another facet of the same insanity.

      I don't expect you to get any of that, but some other people might.

    • 19 November 2019 at 9:27pm
      fbkun says: @ Reader
      You might want to learn a bit more about Ukraine's history (in particular since 1991) before claiming that Russia destroyed Ukraine.

    • 20 November 2019 at 11:41am
      Reader says: @ FoolCount
      Thank you, FoolCount, for your response. You make one good point, and, no doubt unintentionally, tell me much about your affiliations.

      I agree with you that it was an overstatement to claim that Russia was "destroying" Ukraine. Ukraine is far from being destroyed. But the fact that Russia seized Ukrainian territory and then promoted a separatist movement in its Eastern region, supporting it with arms and training, is undeniable. Of course, Russia is not invading Ukraine with the full might of its armed forces. This a proxy war. But if Russia is not involved, who, for example, supplied the Buk missile system that shot down MH370?

      However, the most interesting and revealing aspect of your posting, and the most conclusive proof of your role as a professional propagandist, is its language. The use of old-fashioned, Soviet era tags such as “imperial propaganda” (presumably you meant to write “imperialist”), shows your vintage. The term hasn’t been used for years. Seeing it being rolled out again in your posting brought back a great wave of nostalgia for the old cold war era. But the real giveaway is your use of abuse in place of more solid arguments. Your posting is full of insulting terms: “your ilk”, “thoroughly brainwashed”, “far gone”, “stupidity”, “dishonest propagandists”, “racist”, “stupidity”, “insanity”.

      The point is this. If you have solid arguments, you do better to put them forward and allow them to carry the day. The belief that you persuade an audience by using invective, is a fallacy. And if you think that an impartial reader will somehow be convinced by all this, you do not understand human psychology. The readers of this blog are generally literate, intelligent people. The clue is in the title: the London Review of Books. Note the term, “books”. People who like books will expect a higher standard of debate. I suspect – I hope – that they will be able to see through you.

      And this brings me to my final point. Your posting is written in passable English, but it is full of the sort of small grammatical errors that a non-native English speaker might make. And more interestingly, they are just the sort of errors that I would expect of a Russian.

      For example, the following are not correct English, though their meaning is clear: “a stupidity”, “forced Ukrainian government”, “use of Russian language”, “and immediate introduction”, “ridiculous on its face”, “with a goal”, “than to EU”. As some of our readers might not be aware of this, I should explain that the Russian language contains no definite or indefinite articles. The use of these in English is governed by all sorts of complex rules, which a native speaker learns from birth, but which it is very difficult for a Russian to acquire. Most of your mistakes result from a lack of ability to use these grammatical articles correctly. I am not blaming you – it is not a bad effort, really. But it doesn’t pass muster.

      I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but maybe you should hand over your job to someone just a little younger and more convincing?

    • 20 November 2019 at 2:20pm
      fbkun says: @ Reader
      I've read exactly the same kind of arguments than yours on a blog written by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists of the Azov Brigade type. Does it prove that you're a Ukrainian troll paid by the Kiev government ? Or does that kind of proof only apply to those who contradict you ?
      You're spot on when you write that it's the LRB and "people who like books will expect a higher standard of debate", though. Now what does that tell you about your own posts ?

    • 20 November 2019 at 4:25pm
      fbkun says: @ Reader
      I take it from your hilarious comments on the rules of the English language and the way nasty Russian trolls can't possibly master them that you've never read the online Comments section of a British newspaper --- say, the Guardian, for instance. Apparently, many British-born people can't write English properly. Are they Russian trolls ? Or are you just plain stupid ?

    • 21 November 2019 at 1:22pm
      Reader says: @ fbkun
      Of course, many online comments are illiterate, but the pattern of FoolCount's particular form of illiteracy is diagnostic. His mistakes are focused on the absence of definite and indefinite articles, which is exactly the profile to be expected from a Russian speaker who has a good, but not perfect command of English.

      As for the general style, namely the use of insults and absence of argument, I apply the same comment to you as I did to FoolCount. You appear to think that resorting to vulgar abuse is an effective way to win a debate. On the contrary, the use of insult as a weapon shows that you have no logical or factual argument to put forward.

      You do not seem to realize, that insults do not demean the person you are attempting to damage, they demean only the person using them. They are the sign of a lack of argument, vocabulary and perhaps also of intelligence. It is also an indication that you and FoolCount are from the same stable.

  • 15 November 2019 at 11:33am
    Marmaduke Jinks says:
    Is it axiomatic that Nationalism is bad but pan-European federalism is good?
    I suspect most citizens in most countries would disagree and if they vote that way, in North Macedonia or anywhere else, isn’t that their democratic right?

    • 15 November 2019 at 11:24pm
      FoolCount says: @ Marmaduke Jinks
      If they vote that way (be it in North Macedonia or UK) you can always blame it on the Russians and disregard.

    • 18 November 2019 at 11:26am
      Reader says: @ FoolCount
      Deflection, FoolCount. Another point in favour of our suspicions of you.

  • 15 November 2019 at 11:44am
    staberinde says:
    The choice is whether these countries come into the EU sphere of influence or the Russian sphere of influence.

    The costs of the former include bringing more poor people into the free movement zone, and the risk of increased defensiveness from Russia as Europe's borders grow.

    The costs of the latter include an increase in the Russian empire's influence (in a historically unstable region rife with ethnic tensions) and the legitimisation of Putin and his mafia system.

    Never mind what's in North Macedonia and Albania's interests; what's in Europe's interests? There appears to be no Russia strategy, which must surely be the driver for the enlargement policy. Is 27/28 enough? Or How far is too far, and why?

    I can't work out whether Macron is irresponsible for sabotaging a strategy I'm not sure even exists, purely for tactical domestic reasons, or whether he is irresponsible for not contributing to a strategy that might be more implicit than explicit.

  • 19 November 2019 at 1:52pm
    Reader says:
    I notice FoolCount has not responded to my challenge to make good his tendentious allegations. In the absence of any such response, I have to assume that my suspicions are correct. But the floor is still open if he (I assume it is a "he") wishes to set the record straight. My motto: "no troll left behind".

    • 19 November 2019 at 9:29pm
      fbkun says: @ Reader
      Somehow I was hoping that the level of comments by the LRB readership would be above that. Alas.

  • 19 November 2019 at 6:12pm
    Sandarak says:
    FoolCount, I agree but who does not prefer to be in the tent rather than outside it? Picking up more aid, even as a candidate, belonging to programmes, sitting at the decision making councils and knowing that the main currents are, belonging to a customs union in which you have negotiated as an EU Member. Of course the EU these days does treat its peripheral members very badly, viz Greece in particular, but it still sides with tiny Greek Cyprus against strategically much more important Turkey because the latter is not a member. Indeed look at the way Greece was able to use the EU to isolate FYROM because it did not like its name for crudely nationalist reasons. The advantages of membership are obvious attractions for a poor and isolated tiny country with no military or economic strength, especially when the presence of Russia and its local proxies is looming larger. The bad bargain they will get from Brussels and Berlin seems acceptable in the light of these expectations. Is Macron's unwelcoming line, perhaps a nod to Putin because it costs him nothing?

    • 20 November 2019 at 1:34am
      Astrophil says: @ Sandarak
      "Indeed look at the way Greece was able to use the EU to isolate FYROM because it did not like its name for crudely nationalist reasons."

      Just goes to show you don't know what you are talikng about. Are you aware that FYROM's consitution contained blatant irridentist claims on Greek territory? That children there, were taught that Thessaloniki (Greece's second largest city) belongs, by rights, to Fyrom? Not to even mention their fantastic claims on Alexander, ancient Macedoniam heritage and so on. So who exactly is the "crude" nationalist here?
      Also, rather than being used by anyone, the EU force-fed the Prespae agreement to both parties (to keep Russia out of Fyrom presumably) an agreement which, though obviously lopsided in their favour, Fyrom still didn't like!
      Indeed, one of the main reasons Syriza got such a (sorely deserved) thrashing in the last Greek elections, was that they brought us this scandalous deal, in exchange (many suspect) for minor EU treats in matters concerning debt, and the like.

  • 20 November 2019 at 12:21pm
    Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:
    Please can we admit of the possibility that a country might look to being a member of the European Union as a mark of quality, as a measure of good (-enough) governance, of social as well as of economic benefit. I certainly have not lost that aspiration, even if my so-called country has.

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