Berlin hopes for EU entry talks with Skopje, Tirana

Sofia (AFP) –


Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday she hoped EU accession talks could be launched with North Macedonia and Albania before Germany's EU Council presidency finishes at the end of the year.

"I hope that we can have the accession conference during our council presidency," Merkel said via videolink at the end of a meeting in the Bulgarian capital Sofia of countries involved in the so-called Berlin Process, a forum for cooperation between EU and Balkan states.

Merkel stressed the role the process has played in "reconciliation as well as overcoming historical tensions and the legacy of the past".

"You have to say 'yes' in the region, to overcome your differences! That's very important," she added.

Tuesday's event was co-hosted by EU member Bulgaria and neighbouring North Macedonia as they seek a solution to their disputes before key November 17 talks on Skopje's EU accession bid.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his North Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev met in person at Tuesday's session but did not comment publicly on their discussions.

Bulgaria has threatened to block further steps to North Macedonia's accession unless Skopje recognises that the Macedonian language originated from a Bulgarian dialect and also promises not to make any claims on Bulgarian territory.

Tuesday's summit adopted a declaration to set up a common regional market in the Western Balkans, based on EU rules, and a "Green Agenda" on the model of the EU Green Pact.

French President Emmanuel Macron also addressed the summit via video link to urge Balkan states to play a stronger role in the fight against terrorism.

"While the danger grows, within the European Union and in the Balkans alike, reinforced cooperation will be clearly in the interest of us all," Macron said.

He held a separate meeting on Tuesday in Paris with several EU leaders to discuss anti-terror measures after recent attacks in France and Austria.