Albania and North Macedonia may get EU accession talks go-ahead

Turkey has continued to move further away from union, commission warns

EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Federica Mogherini. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty

EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Federica Mogherini. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty

 

Albania and North Macedonia should now be allowed to open accession talks with the EU, the European Commission has urged. Both, the commission said, have delivered significant progress on internal reform in line with EU recommendations, and their progress should be recognised and rewarded by EU leaders.

Both countries, said the high representative for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini on Wednesday, “have done their work. It is now for the EU to do its [job]” in acknowledging that progress, she hoped, by agreeing at the forthcoming June summit to open talks.

But the commission also warns that Turkey, a “key partner” in the same period, “has continued to move further away from the EU, with serious backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights and through the weakening of effective checks and balances in the political system”.

Turkey’s accession was effectively put on hold in June 2018, and “the underlying facts leading to this assessment still hold”, the commission said.

Albania was praised particularly for its judicial reform programme, while North Macedonia’s agreement with Greece to its name change meant that it was now the only country in the region without a dispute with a neighbour.

The EU’s executive on Wednesday agreed its annual enlargement package, a key assessment of the state of progress by the western Balkan countries and of Turkey in aligning themselves to EU accession standards.

“The EU [membership] perspective remains the driver for change” in all the countries, Ms Mogherini said, expressing delight at local polling, which she said both strongly endorsed the idea of accession but also the specifics of the reform programmes agreed with the EU.

Not so fast

Accession talks are currently under way with Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. North Macedonia and Albania are regarded as “applicants”, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, also further down the pipeline.

Commissioner for enlargement Johannes Hahn warned, however, against too-high expectations that accession would be fast, reminding journalists that it had taken the EU’s newest member, Croatia, a full eight years from the opening of talks. A number of member states are vehemently opposed to any further expansion of the EU soon.

The commission said that Bosnia and Herzegovina was not yet ready to begin the accession process, noting in particular the political criteria for membership requiring stability of institutions and guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law.

Mr Hahn also said he was prepared to engage in a new round of talks between Kosovo and Serbia, which are involved in a bitter dispute about recognition and Serbs living in the northern part of the country. He insisted that the decision by Tirana to impose 100 per cent tariffs on goods from Serbia needed to be revoked.

“Kosovo needs to make further substantial efforts to establish a conducive environment to the conclusion of a legally binding agreement with Serbia,” the commission report said. “Such an agreement is urgent and crucial so that Kosovo and Serbia can advance on their respective European paths.”