EU scrambles to avoid Balkans clash with new accession talks after Ukraine backlash


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Western Balkan countries’ patience is wearing thin as the six countries have been waiting for about a decade to see their EU application moving. In a sign of escalating tensions, leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia threatened Wednesday to boycott Thursday’s EU-Western Balkan summit amid growing frustration over their application. Much of the spotlight has been on war-torn Ukraine which is expected to be formally granted EU candidate status – the very first step towards joining the European Union. But in an attempt to pacify its allies, the EU has now signalled it is ready to resume accession talks with some of the countries waiting for years to see their application progress.

In a direct address to the Western Balkan countries as she arrived at the summit, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola told reporters: “I’d like to say a few words on behalf of the European Parliament.

“Enlargement has always been seen as a transformative process for countries that want to look to Europe as their home and therefore today is a day when we really should start accession negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania.

“We should really start to talk about granting visa liberalisation to Kosovo. These are the points that I will make inside the Summit.

“Because this is a day when we also need to look at the Western Balkans as countries that are neighbouring ours. And countries that should find a place in the European Union, which is their home, because they’re neighbours to ours.”

“With renewed urgency amid Ukraine’s EU application, MEPs urged the European Council in a joint statement to open EU negotiations talks with Albania and North Macedonia, as “the Council has failed to open accession negotiations with them.”

The European Parliament rapporteur for Albania, Isabel Santos, said it is “only fair that the Council finally agrees to open long-overdue negotiations with Albania, not least in the face of mounting geostrategic challenges.” 

As for North Macedonia, its EU rapporteur Ilhan Kyychyuk said: “North Macedonia demonstrated the best democratic transition record across the Western Balkan region and is fully aligned with the EU’s foreign policy in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

In a further sign of impatience, an unnamed Albanian official told Politico that the leaders would not come to hear the “same old empty promises and witness how a single EU country has kidnapped two candidate countries in front of other 26 countries.”

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North Macedonia, which has held an EU candidate status since 2005, faces an uphill battle to move ahead with its application. Bulgaria blocked North Macedonia’s accession negotiations over territorial disputes, language, and identity.

Despite the introduction of a friendship treaty in 2017 aimed at bridging their differences, the two countries have failed to historical and linguistic disputes. 

“I welcome the positive engagement to resolve pending bilateral issues and urge Bulgaria and North Macedonia to promptly find a mutually acceptable solution,” added the EU’s Albania rapporteur.

Albania, however, faces no stumbling block on its way to joining the EU.

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