EU chiefs urge membership talks with N.Macedonia, Albania


Brussels (AFP)

The EU's top leaders said in a joint statement Thursday it is "time to start accession talks" with North Macedonia and Albania for them to join the European Union.

The combined call was issued by outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his successor Ursula von der Leyen, as well as the EU Council chief and the head of the European Parliament.

The statement represented the strongest backing yet for the two western Balkan countries to be put on the path to EU membership. But not all EU member states agree.

Some, notably France and the Netherlands, are reluctant to open the door to new members while problems with corruption or rule of law in existing eastern members such as Romania and Hungary gnaw away at EU unity.

Still, the EU leaders noted that member states had agreed in principle more than a year ago that negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania should begin, and that they had promised a formal decision by this month.

"Whether the EU decides now to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania is a test of the Union?s ability to deliver on its promises and look to the future," the joint statement said.

It highlighted that "North Macedonia and Albania did what we asked them to do" in terms of reforms to prepare themselves for one day joining the EU.

North Macedonia, for instance, changed its name from Macedonia to settle a festering row with neighbouring Greece.

The EU leaders warned that even if accession talks started, "there is no guarantee of success" and more reforms would have to be enacted.

"Membership will not happen overnight," they said.

North Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska told AFP last month that, while she was "very optimistic", another disappointment would "empower autocrats and populists".