North Macedonia, Albania get green light for EU membership talks

25/3/20 | 0 | 0 | 220 εμφανίσεις

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ministers hail move as sign bloc can still take big decisions during coronavirus crisis

EU foreign ministers gave the go-ahead on Tuesday for North Macedonia and Albania to begin talks to join the bloc, overcoming years of tension between member countries over the issue.

The decision, made by videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic, means the two Balkan nations will be the first countries to begin EU membership negotiations since Serbia started on the same path in 2014.

Ministers presented the decision as proof that the 27-member bloc could reach agreement on a topic that had long been divisive, even as Europe is in the grip of the coronavirus crisis.

“The EU remains operational,” Andreja Metelko-Zgombić, Croatia’s secretary of state for European affairs, declared in a video press conference after the meeting.

North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said the fact that “the EU found the will, the energy and strength” to make the decision “during these trying times is a very important signal for us.”

“Europe is keeping its promise. Albania and North Macedonia are thus embarking on the next stage of their journey towards the EU” — Heiko Maas, German foreign minister

“Once the coronavirus is behind us, we have a European future before us,” he told POLITICO by telephone from Skopje. “It’s a beam of light in this darkness all around.”

Gent Cakaj, the Albanian acting foreign minister, said in a tweet that his country “will deliver key priorities” and continue with “unprecedented reforms.”

EU members failed on three previous occasions to agree on inviting the two countries to begin membership talks. Capitals in favor of opening talks, such as Berlin and Rome, argued both countries had implemented democratic reforms as demanded by the EU. They also cautioned that failing to issue invitations would give rival powers such as Russia, Turkey, China and Gulf states more influence in the Balkans.

Other countries, such as France, the Netherlands and Denmark, were skeptical. French President Emmanuel Macron declared the EU should not contemplate adding new members before reforming itself and that the accession process was badly flawed. Officials from skeptical capitals also expressed concern that inviting in more countries from a region with deep-seated organized crime and corruption problems would be unpopular with voters at home and boost nationalist populists.

North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov | Dimitris Tosidis/EPA

However, a compromise was found that included revamping the accession process and imposing additional conditions on Albania that will have to be met before talks can begin.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok noted the conditions on Tirana “all related to the rule of law and the fight against corruption.”

“We agreed that we must first judge whether Albania has fulfilled all these preconditions before the negotiations can actually begin,” he said.

His German counterpart, Heiko Maas, struck a more upbeat note.

“Europe is keeping its promise. Albania and North Macedonia are thus embarking on the next stage of their journey towards the EU. This is the overdue recognition of their reform achievements,” he said. “Stable and efficient democratic constitutional states in the Western Balkans are in our own strategic interest. And orientation towards Europe’s model of peace, freedom and prosperity remains the strongest stability factor for our neighborhood.”

The European Commission, a strong supporter of opening talks with both countries, welcomed Tuesday’s decision. “Today credibility has been delivered,” said Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared herself “delighted.”

However, since no date was officially indicated for them, it could be some time before either country can begin talks, which are expected to last many years and offer no guarantee of eventual membership.

The European Commission will present a framework for negotiations with the two countries, which has also to be agreed by EU countries, and an “intergovernmental conference” will take place. Albania will have to fulfill additional conditions before it is deemed ready for each of those steps.

Várhelyi sought to address fears the opening of talks could take significant time, or that they could be opened only for North Macedonia. “There’s continuous progress and I think that by June, when we come with the annual enlargement package … you’ll see that most of this will already been met by Albania,” he said.

As Tuesday’s decision was taken in a videoconference, which does not have the status of an official meeting, it will be formally approved via a written procedure. The move is also expected to be approved by EU heads of state and government, who are holding a videconference of their own on Thursday.

Hans von der Burchard and Andrew Gray contributed reporting.

https://www.politico.eu/article/north-macedonia-albania-eu-membership-talks/

Category: International

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