Helsinki, 30 August 2019 (dpa/MIA) – The European Union should agree to launch membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, several of the bloc’s foreign ministers argued Friday, despite concerns about lagging progress in fighting corruption and organized crime.
“I think the EU must have an interest in this region,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Helsinki, on the sidelines of talks with his EU counterparts attended also by their Western Balkan colleagues.
This is important to prevent others “who do not necessarily agree to our values” from expanding their influence in the region, Maas added, in a likely reference to Russia and China.
In July, EU member states delayed a decision on launching accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, despite an assessment by the European Commission that both countries had met the requirements and that the bloc’s credibility was at stake, dpa reports.
At the time, Germany was not ready to give the green light, while other countries – notably France and the Netherlands – have long expressed reservations about the move. The issue was pushed back until October.
The concerns centre on Albania in particular, amid general consensus that North Macedonia should be rewarded for making huge strides by settling a name dispute last year with neighbouring Greece.
As a result, the possibility has been floated of opening talks with Skopje while delaying the process for Tirana.
“You have to assess countries individually,” North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said, adding: “Two is better than one. But I also think that one is better than zero. And we don’t have the luxury to miss opportunities for success.”
However, Maas argued that he saw “no need” to consider the two countries’ accession bids separately.
Following Friday’s talks, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said member states showed “an even stronger support and determination and awareness” on the need to be consistent about the next steps of the enlargement process.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn cautioned against allowing the current window of opportunity to pass, although his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius said the countries had to adopt EU rules and values, notably in their foreign policy.
“While we are all speaking about Brexit at the moment we very easily forget that the Western Balkan exists and there are countries who who would like to be members of the [European] Union,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto noted.