European Union ministers have failed to give the go-ahead to begin membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, another blow to the Western Balkan nations' hopes of a speedy accession process.
"It was not a moment of glory for Europe," Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters in Luxembourg on October 15 following a meeting of European affairs ministers.
Hahn added that an "overwhelming majority" of EU members supported the Commission's recommendation that talks begin but that they could not reach the required unanimous decision.
It was the third time -- following similar outcomes in June 2018 and June 2019 -- that the bloc's ministers failed to reach unanimity.
The issue will now be discussed by EU leaders when they meet in Brussels for an EU summit on October 17-18.
Several sources who asked not to be identified told RFE/RL that France played a key role in blocking the start of official accession talks with the two small nations.
Tytti Tuppurainen, Finland’s minister for European affairs, said after the meeting that "unfortunately, there were a few member states hesitant and one member state particularly against it."
"So, we were not able to reach that required unanimity in order to make the decision,"she added.
France and the Netherlands, in particular, have expressed reluctance to open the door to new members over concerns about corruption and the standards of the rule of law in some applicant nations.
French European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said that Paris did not want to separate Albania's case from that of North Macedonia, which has broader EU support, as suggested by Finland.
France "is not asking for anything new" and "is not saying no," de Montchalin told reporters after the meeting.
"We are just asking that criteria set back in June 2018 be fully applied," she added, citing reforms that she said Albania and North Macedonia had not yet completely undertaken.
However, other nations have expressed concerns that delays over membership could aid attempts by Russia or China to increase their influence in the region.
Germany's Minister for European Affairs Michael Roth warned that a "possible political vacuum" in the region "will be filled by other powers that certainly have little in common with democracy and the rule of law."