News in brief Western Balkans

Albania, North Macedonia open talks to join EU

| 2022-07-20 2 min read

Albania, North Macedonia open talks to join EU

Reading Time: 2 minutes

North Macedonia and Albania nominally began their EU accession negotiations in Brussels on Tuesday, with detailed discussions slated to begin in the autumn. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “right after the Intergovernmental Conference today, the Commission and the negotiation teams from Albania and North Macedonia will start to work.”

North Macedonia Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski on Tuesday afternoon tweeted: “As of today, negotiations with the EU are open, it is time for optimism, but also dedicated work.”

Alluding to the country’s national flag, Kovachevski wrote “It is time for the new sun of freedom to rise and light our way to look to the future with courage, dedication and fearlessness. It is time for new, joint victories.”

The two countries have been held back in their ambitions to join the 27-member bloc for some years, by a series of vetos. North Macedonia finally cleared the way for the process on Saturday, when 68 of its 120 MPs voted with a simple majority to back a France-brokered negotiating framework agreed with EU member Bulgaria, which includes North Macedonia recognising its Bulgarian minority as well as its linguistic and cultural influence.

Also on Saturday EU Council President Charles Michel called the vote “a crucial step for North Macedonia and the EU”, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged “the difficult tradeoffs considered in this compromise”.

North Macedonia’s largest opposition party VMRO-DPMNE opposes the Macedonian compromise with Bulgaria, and is in a position to block the opening of talks proper, which require a two-thirds majority vote from MPs. The leader of North Macedonia right-wing nationalist party Hristijan Mickoski has backed weeks of mass demonstrations in capital Skopje, and on Saturday warned that the matter of the brokered agreement is not closed. 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was upbeat about his country’s prospective EU membership process, which will likely take years. “This is not the end of the road but only the beginning of a new part of the road we want Albania to be in,” Rama said. 

The EU launched the preparatory screening process for North Macedonia and Albania in 2018. Accession to the EU involves meeting criteria laid out in 35 “chapters”, including the EU’s “four freedoms” (of goods, services, workers and capital) as well as taxation, energy, transport policy and other areas of governance.