ZAGREB, Nov 20 — Europe’s main conservative parties are set to choose former EU Council President Donald Tusk as the leader of their pan-Europe grouping during a two-day meeting in Croatia.
The former Polish prime minister will be tasked with boosting the fortunes of the European People’s Party (EPP) -- which includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and France’s Republicans.
The EPP is still the largest group in the European Parliament but is under increasing pressure from far-right, liberal and green blocs, which all made gains in the last election.
Tusk, 62, will replace France’s Joseph Daul to become the EPP’s first leader from the European Union’s eastern states.
Among the pressing issues he faces is a renewed dispute about EU enlargement.
Roughly 2,000 participants in Zagreb—Merkel among them—will discuss ties between the EU and the Western Balkans, a volatile region with six nations aspiring to join the bloc.
Last month France angered other leading EU countries by blocking attempts to start membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia.
French President Emanuel Macron insisted that the EU must strengthen existing ties before adding new members.
‘Great disappointment’ -But the European Commission and Tusk do not agree, arguing that the two countries have met all the criteria.
Tusk stressed yesterday his “great disappointment” with the refusal to start talks.
European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen, who is also at the Zagreb meeting, said earlier this month that Europe had “asked a lot of North Macedonia and Albania, (and) they’ve fulfilled it all”.
“Now we must be true to our word and start accession talks,” she said.
Croatia, the newest EU member which joined in 2013, is due to host an EU-Western Balkans summit in May next year attended by all six aspirant countries—Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia.
“I deeply believe that you (Zagreb) will do everything in your power to restore EU unity on enlargement,” Tusk told reporters after meeting Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
The Croatian leader, whose country takes over the EU six-month rotating presidency in January, said he wanted to “help unblock the situation” regarding Northern Macedonia and Albania.
“It would be good for these countries... and the stability of southeast Europe that these talks be opened,” he said.
Many in Brussels fear that if France or other reluctant Western countries continue to stall their ambitions, regional capitals may fall under Russian or Chinese influence. — AFP