US envoy calls EU decision on Balkans 'historic mistake'
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans on Monday described European Union's decision not to open membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania as a "historic mistake" that sends a bad message to the region.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer said the U.S. will do all it can to persuade the EU to reverse the decision before a planned leaders' meeting in May in Croatia. "America wants the Western Balkans to have a European perspective," Palmer said after talks in Belgrade with Serbia's president, Aleksandar Vucic.
French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to allow any new countries into the 28-nation bloc until its enlargement procedures have been reformed, while the Netherlands opposes Albania's candidacy and disputes the commission's assessment.
The decision was seen as a setback for the region where EU membership prospect has been a strong source of encouragement for reform and reconciliation after the war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
"We believe it was a historic mistake," Palmer said. "It is a bad message to the entire region." The U.S. has intensified efforts to help relaunch stalled talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, a former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade doesn't recognize.
Vucic says normalization talks could resume in two to three months. They have been blocked for nearly a year following Kosovo's decision to impose a 100% trade tax on goods from Serbia in response to Belgrade's opposition to Kosovo's independence.
"We want the dialogue to be serious, responsible and lead to a compromise solution," Vucic said. Washington and its allies have recognized Kosovo's independence, while Russia, China and five EU nations have backed Belgrade.