U.S. News EU negotiates accession with Albania and North Macedonia

EU negotiates accession with Albania and North Macedonia

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North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski reacts Tuesday during the joint press conference after the first Intergovernmental Conference on the accession of North Macedonia in EU council in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by Georgi Licovski/EPA-EFE

July 19 (BP) — The European Union started on Tuesday to negotiate accession with North Macedonia and Albania.

The EU agreed to formally open negotiations with the Western Balkan countries after the North Macedonia parliament voted Saturday to a French-brokered compromise on its long-standing dispute with neighboring Bulgaria.

Under the deal, Bulgaria agreed to a French proposal to lift its veto blocking North Macedonia’s accession talks with the EU in exchange for North Macedonia committing to change its constitution to recognize the country’s Bulgarian minority, protect minority rights and banish hate speech.

Bulgaria’s veto also impacted Albania because the EU is treating the two countries as a package deal for the accession process.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told reporters on Tuesday morning he was thankful for French President Emmanuel Macron and other negotiators of the French proposal, “which opened the way to this unblocking of an absurd situation,” Euronews reported.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference on the opening of talks that both countries have made numerous reforms on rule of law, freedom of the press and corruption.

“You’ve made all these changes not because they were necessary on your path toward the European Union, but above all because they are good for your countries and they are delivering a better quality of life for your people,” she said at a press conference.

Von der Leyen added that the first phase of negotiation involves a “screening” process.

“The screening will enable Albania and North Macedonia to get familiar with the rights and obligations of our union, from treaties to legislation to international agreements, you name it,” she said, adding “we will proceed very quickly with that.”

Under the negotiations, North Macedonia and Albania will be required to continue reforms to reach EU standards, which are monitored and assessed regularly, and the Accession Treaty will be ratified when all parties are satisfied with the progress that has been made.

On average, it takes just under five years for a country to become a member state of the EU from the opening of accession negotiations. The fastest to negotiate accession were Austria, Finland and Sweden, in just under two years. It took Croatia took just under eight years.

“Our place is in the European Union,” Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said Tuesday, Euronews reported. “We have said many times so far that we are a reliable partner for the European Union and for its member states and we will continue to work and function in this way. That is why I expect that we will have a positive example of fastest integration of a member state into the European Union, just as we had the fastest integration of a member state into NATO.”

“We are ready for the European Union,” he added. “I am sincerely joyous, together with the citizens, for today’s welcome from the European Union. If we can predict a day by the beginning, then this will surely be an excellent day, a historic one. A day that will make us proud.”

For North Macedonia, accession talks have been 17 years in the making since the country of 2 million people became a candidate country in 2005. Along with the Bulgaria veto, another challenge to accession was Greece requesting the country to change its name, which was resolved when Greek lawmakers approved the Prespa Accord, clearing the way for the country to add “North” to its name.

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