EU moves to start membership talks with Albania and N.Macedonia

The decision is expected to be formally approved mid-week in case no country objects

The European Union will start membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, according to a draft unanimous decision by the bloc's 27 Member States, which is expected to be finalised this week. If approved as expected, the agreement would end two years of delays and signal new momentum for all six Western Balkan countries - Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and North Macedonia - seeking to join the EU.

The decision comes after Paris and the Hague eased their stance on the two countries' accession in the EU as Brussels recommended the opening of negotiation talks with Albania and North Macedonia once again in March. Previously, France had called for changes in the accession methodology, stating it should be more gradual, more controlled and include the expertise of the Member States, in order for the progress to be achieved. Later in February, Brussels presented a new enlargement methodology which France supported. Under it, EU governments, not just the EU Commission, now have more say over the process, ensuring hopefuls meet targets in economic, judicial and other reforms, and can reset the process if Balkan governments do not step up.

"France is OK with the methodology ... The situation is OK. I think we have a good chance [of adoption on Friday]," a diplomat told EUobserver on Thursday last week.

And even though the Netherlands has eased most of their objections, the country's parliament continues to stress on two other points recommended in the draft. During a discussion on Albania's EU integration progress, Dutch MPs requested that Albania follow the Venice Commission's recommendations which call for the functioning of the Constitutional Court and the High Court due to issues with the vetting process as well as the amendment of the media law. The Venice Commission is on its way to drafting a second opinion on the latter, the recommendations of which are also needed to be implemented according to the Dutch Parliament.

Additionally, according to Reuters, Greece was still not on board with the EU's decision to start accession talks prior to the weekend, but diplomatic sources claimed that approval was given "after the latest draft included stronger language on protecting Greek and other national minorities in Albania."

Now, if no country objects, the decision is expected to be formally approved mid-week, the sources added.

“It’s a testing time for Europe. The EU needs to show that it maintains its capacity to act amidst the coronavirus crisis. That’s also why we were able to find an agreement on enlargement now. It proves that the EU is still working and delivering,” a senior EU diplomat told Reuters on Monday.

More on this subject: EU accession

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