EU puts ‘North Macedonia’ and Albania on hold until the European elections

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg Minister for Foreign and European Affairs who helped put in place the compromise, with Nathalie Loiseau, French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who reportedly put brakes. [Council]

The European Union agreed a compromise on Tuesday (26 June) whereby it would open negotiations to join the bloc with Albania and Macedonia in June next year, provided a string of conditions on rule of law, crime and corruption are met.

“Member states set out the path towards accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and Albania in June 2019,” the Bulgarian presidency of the EU announced on Twitter after 10 hours of debate.

Austrian EU affairs minister Gernot Bluemel said he had asked the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, to prepare the groundwork for opening accession talks “but of course certain conditions have to be met.”

Progress should include “further tangible and sustained results” on reforms of the judiciary, security services, and public administration, as well as cracking down on corruption.

Austria takes over the six-month rotating EU presidency in July.

The unexpected outcome, despite broad EU support, showed French President Emmanuel Macron’s determination to postpone the decision until after European Parliament elections in May, for fear of stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, diplomats said.

It also puts a brake on the momentum Germany and EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker had sought in the Western Balkans to counter Russian influence by offering six countries a path to EU membership.

The negotiations could begin after the European parliamentary elections next year if the two candidate countries continue to make progress on reforms demanded by the EU, especially concerning the fight against organised crime and corruption in Albania.

The decision to set a date for starting talks was taken by the bloc’s European Affairs ministers during a meeting in Luxembourg which saw reservations expressed by France and the Netherlands, according to European sources.

The agreement to open talks was negotiated by Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn, one of the sources said.

“It was a very difficult birth,” conceded German minister Michael Roth in a tweet.

Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn twitted that the decision is crucial for the EU’s own credibility.

A diplomatic source told AFP that the recent agreement between Athens and Skopje to resolve their name dispute, settling on the Republic of North Macedonia for the ex-Yugoslav republic, helped to convince some of the most hesistant EU states to move ahead.

End of Macedonia’s name dispute opens road to EU talks and NATO membership

Macedonia and Greece yesterday (12 June) resolved a nearly three-decade row by agreeing to the name Republic of North Macedonia, opening the road for the landlocked country to start EU accession talks and to join NATO.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev …

However, the name change must still be approved in a referendum which if rejected by Macedonian voters would mean that “its invitation to join NATO would be cancelled and its negotiations with the EU would be stalled,” warned Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

NATO is expected to extend an invitation to Macedonia to join the alliance during its 11-12 July summit, but accession will take place only if the referendum is successful.

Speaking in Vienna, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urged European leaders to continue “motivating” his country to undertake reforms.

“Motivation by the EU is the leading force in the Western Balkan countries,” he said.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also hailed the ministers’ decision “after 72 hours of stormy debate” as a victory. “The results of our huge reforms finally led even the sceptics to accept that Albania and Macedonia are ready to negotiate,” Rama tweeted in English.

However, opposition leader Lulzim Basha said Albania would be turned away in a year if it did not fight crime and corruption.

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