Brussels, 24 March 2020 (MIA) – The EU ministers of European affairs decided Tuesday that North Macedonia should start negotiating with the Union without any additional conditions, MIA reports from Brussels.
Today’s ministerial meeting took place as a video conference – and the press conferences that followed – where the ministers green-lit the conclusions approved by the ambassadors, saying North Macedonia had made enough progress to open negotiations now, whereas Albania got additional conditions regarding the judiciary and fight against corruption.
“North Macedonia had accelerated its work since October. The Prespa Agreement had been adopted, the treaty with Bulgaria as well, which is an example for the whole region. This paves the way for the country,” said Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Olivér Várhelyi, adding that the country had also adopted the Law on Public Prosecutor’s Office while a caretaker government was in power.
After the October failure to open negotiations and after the new European Commission took office ‘things didn’t look good as they do today’ in terms of the opening of negotiations, according to him.
Várhelyi praised the reforms implemented in the two countries, adding that today’s decision affirmed the EU’s commitment to the region despite the difficult circumstances in the EU amid the coronavirus crisis.
Echoing the same sentiments, Andreja Metelko-Zgombić, State Secretary For European Affairs of Croatia, which currently holds the rotating presidency, said today’s decision benefited not only the two countries, but also the EU itself.
“The good news is that the EU even in times of challenges has managed to remain focused on making strategic decisions,” she stated.
The opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania were the only item of Tuesday’s EU ministers’ meeting.
The European Commission is expected to make the next step after being given the green light to prepare a negotiating framework with the two countries. It is expected to be followed by the first intergovernmental conference that marks the opening of the first chapter.
Speaking at the online news conference, which experienced some glitches, Várhelyi said that he planned the negotiating framework to be presented before the Council in June, which could allow for the first intergovernmental conference to take place, MIA’s Brussels correspondent said.
Because of bad online connection, the Commissioner’s address at times was inaudible.
After checking in with Várhelyi’s office, his associates confirmed to MIA that the Commissioner had said that June was the date taken into consideration by the European Commission.
We, he said, will start to prepare the framework soon, we should sit down with the two countries and we plan to include it in the agenda of the Council as soon as possible.
In addition to the European Commission, the candidate countries also are tasked with preparing a negotiating framework. Once the framework is finalized, it is sent to the member states to be approved and it paves the way for the first intergovernmental conference to be held, European Commission sources explain.
With this statement, MIA reports, it is clear that the European Commission is considering a date for start of negotiations after the progress reports are published, which is slated for May.
At the news conference, Commission Várhelyi said he wouldn’t like to predict which of the two countries could open the chapters first.
It depends on the reform progress in each of the countries, according to him, saying the process is based on the countries’ own merits.