Brussels, June 29 (Tirana Echo) – European Union leaders have agreed to start membership talks with Albania and Macedonia within 2019 if both small Balkan nations show substantial progress in their crucial rule of law reforms under way.
Following a Foreign Ministers Council earlier in the week, EU heads of member states said in a statement they endorse their foreign ministers’ decision to open accession talks by the end of 2019, pending progress in both countries.
The decision comes as a blow to political leaders both in Tirana and Skopje, who expected negotiations would start this year, prompting opposition groups to accuse both Albanian and Macedonian prime ministers of failing to convince the EU.
However, the EU Summit reportedly based their decision on French and Dutch concerns over substantial progress needed both in Tirana and in Skopje before accession talks could formally be opened. The decision was further shadowed by the huge internal rift over immigration on European soil, notably between Italy and Germany.
Commenting on the EU Council decision, Albanian prime minister Edi Rama did not hide his disappointment at the 12 month postponement but said the EU Summit could have ended without an agreed text.
“I am extremely pleased that despite the huge internal difficulties the European Union faces today and despite the different approach adopted by some countries, the agenda of Europeanization and integration of the Western Balkans in the European Union has not been left behind. This is of fundamental importance to us both Albania and Macedonia” – Rama said during a conference with EU Ambassadors in Tirana.
While accession talks are already underway for both Serbia and Montenegro, the European Commission recommended earlier this year that negotiations start with both Albania and Macedonia, with the latter agreeing to solve a long conflict over a name dispute with its southern neighbor Greece.
All Western Balkan countries hope to join an increasingly skeptical and tired European Union with a target agenda of 2025 for final steps of membership.
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