Várhelyi: EU hopefuls to conform to bloc’s electoral expectations

European Commissioner in charge of neighborhood and enlargement policy, Oliver Varhelyi during a video press conference on external action of the EU in the next multi annual framework in Brussels, Belgium, 02 June 2020. [EPA-EFE/POOL / OLIVIER HOSLET]

Parties in Albania need to deliver a ‘crucial’ agreement on electoral reform, while North Macedonia’s vote must leave sufficient time and possibilities for campaigning, the EU’s enlargement chief said on Tuesday (2 June), outlining the priorities for the two EU hopefuls before accession talks can start.

Albania’s political parties failed to reach an agreement on electoral reform, a key precondition set by the EU for pushing ahead with accession talks, before the self-imposed deadline of 31 May.

“I encourage from here all parties participating, be it in Parliament or outside parliament, to still give it a try and come to an agreement,” Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi told reporters.

“It would be unfortunate to waste the momentum that we have managed to create together without Albania and the member states… We need that agreement and I do hope that in the coming hours or days, they will deliver. This is crucial,” the enlargement boss said.

In March, member states approved starting membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, in a move that was supposed to breathe life into the moribund enlargement process and restore the EU’s credibility in the Western Balkans, where two countries are already negotiating – Montenegro and Serbia – while Bosnia and Kosovo still lag behind.

Balkan hopefuls get green light to start EU talks, conditions still weigh on Tirana

EU ministers on Tuesday (24 March) approved starting membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, a move hailed as restoring “credibility” after months of damaging delays and bickering.

However, extra justice and rule of law reform conditions, including the one on electoral law, continue to weigh on Tirana before the Council gives its final blessing for the principles that will guide accession talks, the so-called “negotiating frameworks.”

Várhelyi said that the European executive was finalising the frameworks.

“The negotiating framework should be with us in a couple of days actually, we [will] try to get it on the table of the Council, hopefully next week.”

Enlargement Package postponed until autumn, negotiation framework to go ahead in June

Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Várhelyi confirmed to EU lawmakers on Tuesday (19 May) that the publication of the European Commission’s enlargement package has been postponed until autumn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, North Macedonia is facing its own electoral struggle after the April general elections were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, with lawmakers now failing to find an agreement on the new date.

Asked about the governing coalition’s push to hold elections in early July, Várhelyi said that “at this stage, what I can tell you is that free and fair elections would have to be held with sufficient time … and sufficient possibilities for all political parties to campaign.”

“We need to also look into how under the COVID regimes this can be implemented,” he added.

“So this is something that we will take up with the North Macedonian authorities, for sure, because it is very important to ensure fully the fairness and the freedom of elections.”

A virtual meeting of EU and Western Balkan leaders to discuss the future of the region last month stressed the European perspective for the countries but produced a final declaration that omitted the term ‘enlargement’ altogether.

EU and Western Balkan leaders reaffirm ties in veiled response to China, Russia

EU leaders confirmed their “unequivocal support for the European perspective” to their Western Balkans counterparts during a video-summit on Wednesday (6 May). However, the final declaration doesn’t make reference to a tangible time frame for the region’s accession to the bloc.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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