Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has expressed disappointment that European Union leaders did not invite North Macedonia and Albania to start membership negotiations.
His comments came early Friday morning after talks in Brussels on possible expansion to Western Balkans ended without any agreement.
“It's a bit of a disappointment. We have to admit that we failed to reach a consensus, because three countries were against the decision to invite those two countries to negotiations,” Nausėda told reporters.
Diplomats say France opposed inviting both countries, while Denmark and the Netherlands would have agreed to open membership talks with North Macedonia, but not Albania.
Lithuania and all the remaining countries backed the European Commission's proposal to invite both Western Balkan countries to start membership talks.
Nausėda said that the negative decision would cause huge disappointment in North Macedonia which agreed to change its name to overcome Greece's objections.
“Everybody agrees that North Macedonia has done a lot and has changed its name, has changed its Constitution, and has done everything to be invited. Therefore, I think, the absence of decision will have serious political consequences in North Macedonia,” the Lithuanian president said.
He added that EU leaders would continue talks on Friday and look into the progress made by the two Western Balkan countries, “but that will no longer be a decision to invite them” to start membership negotiations.
The issue sparked major debate within the European Council which ended at 2 a.m. local time (3 a.m. Lithuanian time).
Objecting to EU expansion in the Balkans, France said new member states often ignored common European values and that societies of the current members did not want any more immigration. Critics say Europe's failure to act would increase Russia's and China's influence in the Balkans.
Croatia is now the only EU member in the Western Balkans, while talks continue with Serbia and Montenegro.
Lithuania has traditionally supported the EU's open-door policy, hoping that EU expansion would counterbalance Moscow's influence.