EU officials send mixed messages on Albania's and North Macedonia's accession progress

EU officials send mixed messages on Albania's and North Macedonia's accession progress
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje May 9, 2021

EU senior officials are sending mixed messages about the EU enlargement regarding Albania and North Macedonia, the two Balkan countries that so far have been coupled in the process.

Last week, EU enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi raised the possibility of decoupling Tirana and Skopje in the EU enlargement process if North Macedonia fails to solve the bilateral issue with Bulgaria meaning that Albania could be invited to launch EU talks without North Macedonia, which raised concerns in Skopje. Bulgaria vetoed the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia at the end of 2020 over a separate set of linguistic and historical issues.

After Varhelyi's comments, Germany and Slovakia’s ministers said their countries are supporting plans for North Macedonia and Albania to start EU membership talks together in June.

“Germany supports Portugal EU Presidency’s objective to hold first accession conferences with both Albania and North Macedonia in June. Both countries have delivered on required reforms - now the EU has to deliver, too. Further delay undermines EU credibility and stability in the region,” German European Minister Michael Roth said in a tweet on May 7.

“Credible EU enlargement policy is now about abandoning the veto in the Council which has to recognise progress made by North Macedonia and Albania. Opening of IGC with both countries long overdue,” Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korczok tweeted.

European Commission’s spokesperson Ana Pisonero confirmed the Varhelyi’s statement that Skopje and Tirana could be decoupled in the process if there is not solution between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, news agency MIA reported.

She was cited as saying that the European Commission thinks that the two countries are ready to start negotiations, but that the decision is made by the Council and that decoupling is one of the options.

"If there is no agreement for North Macedonia, then this option could be considered," Pisonero was cited.

North Macedonia’s Deputy PM Nikola Dimitrov in charge of European affairs, commenting on decoupling option said that North Macedonia “fulfilled all the conditions that were set in line with European values as repeatedly assessed by the Commission itself".

“The case of North Macedonia is a test of EU’s credibility in the Western Balkans: will the EU keep its promisises?” Dimitrov told Euronews.

The Council of Ambassadors in Skopje also expressed concerns over EU Commissioner Varhelyi’s remarks. The diplomats do not believe that his position reflects the position of the entire EU.

"Two years ago, some EU member states were against this option and we do not believe that there are serious reasons that the EU would change its position," they said.

North Macedonia’s PM Zoran Zaev will meet European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on May 10 to seek clarification about Varhelyi statement and North Macedonia’s accession process.

During the celebration of the Europe Day on May 9 in Skopje, the EU ambassador in the country, David Geer, said that the position of the EC is absolutely clear.

“The Commission wants to see holding of the intergovernmental conferences with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible. The process is based on merit and both countries have done a lot. It is time for them to move forward,” Geer was cited by media in Skopje.

However, he encouraged Skopje and Sofia to find a mutually acceptable solution to the unresolved issued, which Bulgaria raised unilaterally.

Foreign and Development Ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) also expressed support for the formal opening of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia last week.

Euronews’ Brussels correspondent Jack Parrock posted a video on Twitter on May 6, in which Albania’s PM Edi Rama was telling a joke about EU skepticism in Albania.

“Eurooptimists say Turkey will become a member under Albanian [EU] presidency and Europessimists say Albania would become a member under Turkish presidency,” Rama said in a TV interview.

Turkey is one of the countries that are waiting the longest to start EU accession talks as it applied for full membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, in 1987.

Since 2016 when the accession negotiations have stalled the EU criticized Turkey for human rights violations and deficits in rule of law.

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