Politics Regional

EU can start talks with Albania and North Macedonia over joining

Member states clear way for Balkan countries to join after concerns over corruption

The EU can start membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, according to a draft decision by the bloc’s 27 member states due 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 democratic Europe states.

The hopes of North Macedonia and Albania were dashed last year as France and the Netherlands sounded scepticism over their track records on democracy and fighting corruption, fearful of allowing in new members at a time when the EU’s cohesion was already damaged by Britain’s departure.

Paris and The Hague eased their objections last month and the plans to allow talks to start have gained momentum despite the coronavirus crisis, with Brussels eager to show its determination to bring the Balkans into the EU fold.

Last week, Greece still did not support the decision, which requires unanimity of EU members, but diplomatic sources said Athens had given its approval after the latest draft included stronger language on protecting Greek and other national minorities in Albania.

If no country objects, the decision is expected to be formally adopted this week by the 27 EU members’ Europe ministers.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, who blocked the opening of talks with Skopje and Tirana in October, said in February he was willing to allow them to begin membership talks if the European commission gave them a positive review and changed the way it admitted new countries.

Brussels duly did, with a reform of the enlargement process presented in February, which France welcomed.

EU governments, not just the commission, now have more say over the process, ensuring that hopefuls meet targets in economic, judicial and other reforms, and can reset the process if Balkan governments do not step up.

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