Macedonia, Albania to start talks in 2019

Foreign ministers give cautious nod on opening EU negotiations

Photo: Photo: EPA Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva (R) talks to her counterparts from Germany and Luxembourg, Heiko Maas (L) and Jean Asselborn (C), during the Foreign Affairs Council.

Macedonia and Albania may start EU accession negotiations in a year after EU foreign ministers gave last Tuesday cautious green light on the matter. But in order to open negotiations in June 2019, both countries should demonstrate progress on reforms, ministers insisted. It should include “further tangible and sustained reforms of the judiciary, security services, and public administration, as well as cracking down on corruption”.

Macedonia and Albania may start EU accession negotiations in a year after EU foreign ministers gave last Tuesday cautious green light on the matter, news wires reported. But in order to open negotiations in June 2019, both countries should demonstrate progress on reforms, ministers insisted. It should include “further tangible and sustained reforms of the judiciary, security services, and public administration, as well as cracking down on corruption”. If that happens, actual negotiations could begin by the end of the year.

The decision came amid deep divisions among the Member States over the issue, with France and the Netherlands, backed by Denmark, calling for more reforms in Albania and Macedonia before membership talks can kick off. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said it was an important day for the two countries and for the Western Balkans as a whole. EU countries took a strong position signalling to countries in the Western Balkans that they had a “clear perspective towards the EU,” Austrian European Affairs Minister Gernot Blumel pointed out. “It was a very difficult birth,” German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth tweeted. The decision still needs to be approved by EU leaders meeting at a summit in Brussels on 28-29 June.

Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev urged European leaders to continue motivating his country to make reforms. “Motivation by the EU is the leading force in the Western Balkan countries,” he said. Albanian PM Edi Rama hailed the ministers' decision as a victory. “This initial skirmish is won, and now the real battle begins,” he tweeted.

Ahead of the Luxembourg meeting, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok acknowledged that both countries had made important progress. “But, at the same time, they are not there yet. We want to see a track record in the fight against corruption and the rule of law,” he pointed out. At the same time, Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn warned against delaying the start of membership talks with the two countries, stressing the importance of giving a positive signal to the whole Western Balkans.

Hahn said at an EU-Montenegro intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg that Macedonia should be rewarded for signing an agreement with Greece earlier this month to end a 27-year dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name. “I think if this is not rewarded in a meaningful way, I think this will have an immediate and huge impact for the stability of the region,” Hahn stressed.

Besides Macedonia and Albania, four other Balkan countries remain outside the EU: Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Only Montenegro and Serbia have so far started membership negotiations with the bloc.

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