EU agrees to start accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia

EU agrees to start accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia

After Skopje resolved a long-running dispute with its neighbour, Bulgaria, Albania and North Macedonia were given the green light on Monday (July 18) to start membership talks that could lead to membership in the EU. ‘European Union.

EURACTIV looks at the next steps the two countries need to take on their way to EU membership.

“We have taken another important step to bring the Western Balkans closer to the EU”said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, after the validation of the green light during a meeting of ambassadors of the bloc in Brussels.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his North Macedonian counterpart Dimitar Kovacevski are expected in Brussels later on Tuesday to take part in an intergovernmental conference paving the way for the launch of accession negotiations, which could take some time. years.

Many vetoes

North Macedonia was granted candidate status in 2005, but for many years was unable to start accession negotiations due to opposition from Greece, until it finally changed name, removes the sun of Vergina from its flag and gives up on “Hellenizing” its history as part of the 2018 Prespa agreement.

After Prespa, it was France that blocked the opening of accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana until a new methodology for future enlargement was agreed at EU level.

The next obstacle was the Bulgarian veto, from 2020, after Sofia blocked any progress due to a dispute between the countries over historical issues and the need to overcome a feeling of hostility dating back to the Tito period. .

This dispute was resolved after North Macedonia and Bulgaria signed a French proposal to make Macedonian an official language of the EU, to modify the country’s constitution to recognize Bulgarians among the building peoples of the nation, to protect the rights of minorities in the country, to modify school textbooks containing negative references to Bulgaria and to introduce hate speech into the penal code.

Bulgaria, however, continues to consider the Macedonian language as a dialect of Bulgarian and submitted a memorandum to a meeting of EU ambassadors on Monday recalling its position on the matter.

The dispute between Sofia and Skopje has hampered Albania’s candidacy, as the EU has associated the two countries in their application for membership. Albania received candidate status in 2014, nine years after Skopje.

Albania is expected to begin membership negotiations immediately, while North Macedonia will first have to amend its constitution by including Bulgarians among the other nations listed there.

As the outgoing Bulgarian Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska said, it could take “three months, or maybe two years”.

How do candidates become members?

Before the start of accession negotiations, the candidate country and the European Commission draw up what is called a “pre-accession strategy”, which leads the two parties to draw up a negotiation framework.

Negotiations cannot begin until the mandate is unanimously approved by member states of the bloc.

During this process, the European Commission must ensure that the candidate country fulfills three conditions, known as the “Copenhagen criteria”.

To start negotiations, however, the candidate country only has to fulfill the political criteria, the others can be fulfilled during the negotiation phase.

Negotiations then take place between the ministers and ambassadors of the governments of the Union and of the candidate country within the framework of what is called an intergovernmental conference (IGC).

The first phase consists of a rigorous examination of the legislation of the candidate country in order to determine to what extent it is aligned with Community law, or “acquis communautaire”.

The acquis is divided into 35 negotiating chapters, divided into six clusters, covering all legislative aspects, all of which can only be closed individually with the unanimous support of all EU Member States.

The negotiations begin with the opening of the so-called “fundamental” chapters, such as the judicial system and fundamental rights, and this chapter is also the last to be closed.

Negotiations of several chapters can take place simultaneously.

Once all the chapters are closed, the Commission recommends the candidate countries for membership and the country signs the accession treaty which sets a date for accession, making it an accession country (ACP).

The treaty must be ratified by the 27 Member States and the European Parliament, which must approve the text by an absolute majority.

The pace of negotiations depends on the speed of the process of reform and alignment with EU legislation in each country and their duration may vary.

The European Commission outlines the progress of candidate countries in annual reports.

In its assessment last year, the EU executive said North Macedonia and Albania were “ moderately preparedin most of the six country groups and that they had made progress.

In reality, the closure of chapters can take several years, as was the case for Serbia or even Montenegro.

Each EU member state can object to the closing or opening of the chapters and Bulgaria has reserved the right to do so if the bilateral protocol is not implemented by North Macedonia.

The fastest countries in accession negotiations were Austria, Finland and Sweden, with just under two years, while Croatia took just under eight years from the start of negotiations and when it became a full member of the Union.

What could be the difficulties encountered?

Bilateral problems or internal troubles: although it won the support of the majority of lawmakers, the French proposal to lift the Bulgarian veto sparked widespread protests in North Macedonia, its detractors believing that a change in the Constitution could be too much.

Critics of the French proposal in Skopje say it opens the door to negating the national identity of Macedonians. The country’s powerful opposition VMRO-DPMNE party strongly opposes the French compromise.

Capacity of the EU to welcome a new member: the Copenhagen criteria also include a fourth element, namely that the EU must have the capacity to integrate a new Member State.

In recent years there has been some resistance to enlargement within the EU. But the strategic importance of the Western Balkans for the EU has grown since Russia invaded Ukraine, with fears over Moscow’s influence in the region.

The Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU for six months, will have to find a balance between, on the one hand, the countries which are pushing for a rapid accession of Ukraine to the bloc and, on the on the other hand, the countries which have been waiting for many years to join, such as those in the Western Balkans.

In October 2022, the Czech Presidency will hold an informal summit in Prague. Member States and other European countries will participate in this event,“from Iceland to Ukraine”.

Some Member States, however, advocate a reform of the Union before any further enlargement of the latter.

Paris recently presented its proposal for a “miracle solution” to stabilize the EU neighborhood, and it is not necessarily a question of proceeding with an enlargement of the Community bloc.

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