Albania and North Macedonia start EU accession negotiations

The Prime Ministers of Albania, Edi Rama, and North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovacevski, traveled to Brussels on Tuesday to mark the start of formal negotiations on accession to the European Union, a process that kicks off after years of stalemate, and which opens the way for another long road of reforms and compromises before the EU-27 unanimously decide on their membership of the club.

“It is your success and it is the success of your citizens, you have worked so hard to get this far and shown so much commitment to our values, demonstrated resilience and kept faith with the accession process,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Rama and Kovacevski at a joint appearance without questions in Brussels.

The head of the EU executive welcomed the “historic moment” of the formal opening of negotiations with these two awaiting Balkan countries, while stressing that they have already traveled part of the road to the EU with “countless” reforms in the fight against corruption, rule of law and modernization of the economy.

Kovacevski, for his part, has considered that the move to negotiation is “a new beginning for the region” but also the result of the effort of a country that has had as a “strategic objective for decades” to join the “European family”, despite the fact that the wait as a candidate country has dragged on for 17 years.

The Macedonian prime minister has underlined as one of the main achievements of the negotiation that has made it possible to overcome Bulgaria’s veto at the beginning of the negotiations the prospect that opens up for the country’s language to be recognized as an “official” language of the EU, “without asterisks”, when North Macedonia joins.

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Rada also referred to the difficulties of the Albanian candidate process, which has seen 8 years pass before being able to open the negotiation negotiations, “complicated years” in which the European Council repeatedly refused to move to the next phase and the country had to face the consequences of a serious earthquake and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was a perfect storm that made us stronger,” the Albanian prime minister said at the appearance alongside Von der Leyen, Kovacevski and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU this semester. Rada also underlined the determination of the Albanians who “never gave up the dream of walking the path towards the EU”.

Later, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, wanted to emphasize the value of the two Balkan countries joining the community club at a time of “great geopolitical, tectonic changes”.

“We are moving towards historic and strategic decisions. We are facing a crossroads of history and witnessing changes in our geostrategic environment,” Borrell said at the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia to emphasize that he sees only possible “to move forward together”, with the “full integration of the Western Balkans into the EU”. “We would not be complete without you,” he reiterated.

In the case of both Albania and North Macedonia, the Council has indicated that they are already “100% aligned” with the European Common Foreign and Security Policy, which the head of European diplomacy has warned is not a “technical exercise”, but requires a great effort that cannot be taken for granted.

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The first step in the new accession stage takes the form of two Intergovernmental Conferences this Tuesday in Brussels setting out the negotiating framework and the issues that the European Union wants to negotiate before taking the next step.

In the case of North Macedonia, however, this first conference is “political” but not formal because the EU is waiting for the agreement adopted over the weekend by its Parliament to unblock the situation to be transferred to the Constitution, at which point contacts will officially begin.

In parallel, the European Commission also begins this Tuesday the work with the two Balkan countries to accompany them in the process and help them to “become familiar with the rights and obligations” of the acquis communautaire, said Von der Leyen, referring to the set of European rules, international agreements and other treaties that involve all Member States and are the basis for the functioning of the EU.

Alongside this diagnostic phase, Brussels “will continue to closely accompany” the negotiating teams of Albania and North Macedonia in key areas to move towards the European project and has given as an example the forthcoming entry of Albania in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism that assists countries in the face of disasters or the negotiation that will begin “very soon” with the Macedonians for an agreement with Frontex.

Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhely, in turn, conceded that the start of negotiations marks “the end of a long process,” but also stressed that it is the beginning of a new phase that he hopes will progress “go much faster.”

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