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Albania, North Macedonia take a step closer to joining EU

Albania and North Macedonia began membership talks with the European Union on Tuesday, overcoming a series of obstacles thrown up by EU governments despite an original promise to begin negotiations in mid-2018.

The start of formal negotiations was jointly announced by the Prime Ministers of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovachevsky and Albania’s Edi Rama, as well as Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who now heads the Union, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“You have shown so much leadership, so much vision, you have shown strategic patience,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the leaders of Albania and North Macedonia in Brussels alongside the Czech PM, whose country holds the six-month presidency of the EU.

The negotiations are a breakthrough but the delay in getting to this stage has revealed the EU’s lack of appetite for further enlargement, particularly in northern Europe. North Macedonia has been a candidate for the Union for 17 years, Albania for eight.

Despite a recommendation by the EU’s executive Commission for the two countries to start talks four years ago, first the German and Dutch parliaments, then France’s president and then Bulgaria’s government each took their turn to hold up the process with different demands of the two hopefuls.

“The European future is within your reach. I wish you the swiftest possible path,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said.

The EU decision to engage in talks with North Macedonia came after Skopje agreed to amend the constitution to recognise a Bulgarian minority – a key Bulgarian request.

“We know this is not the beginning of the end, this is just the end of the beginning,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, whose country’s progress was tied by the EU to North Macedonia.

EU membership talks and reforms could still take years, EU officials said.

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