By Stefan Bos
Speaking to EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, French president Emmanuel Macron did not have hopeful news for Balkan nations hoping for European Union membership in the foreseeable future.
With Britain set to become the first country to leave the bloc next year, Macron told them that France would only support an enlargement when there is first "a deepening and a reform of our Europe."
He stressed that he does not want to see Balkans nations turns toward Turkey or Russia.
But he added that he also doesn't want a Europe that, "functioning with difficulty at 28 and tomorrow with 27, would decide that it could continue to expand to 30 or 32 [members] with the same rules."
Macron said that the EU already faces severe tensions amid rising nationalism on the continent. "There seems to be a sort of European civil war: national selfishness and negativity seem to take precedence over what brings us together. There is a fascination with the illiberal, and that is growing all the time,” he argued.
His comments come days after eurosceptic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's party won last week's elections and while Brussels confronts Poland's right-wing government over the rule of law.
But speaking through an interpreter European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whose institution recommends whether countries should be allowed in, insisted that Europe's door must remain open. "I don't want to see war returning to the Balkans, so we must open up to them," he stressed.
That was a reference to the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. When he took over at the European Commission four years ago, Juncker vowed that there would be no EU enlargement during his term. Hungary is among the most vocal EU member states supporting the Western Balkans attempts to join the block soon.