The European Union is being pressed to begin accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania before the end of the month as promised despite resistance from some bloc members.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on June 11 said EU leaders should “keep their word” with North Macedonia, which changed its name from Macedonia to help push forward its membership hopes.
Babis, speaking following talks with North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, added that his country was ready to support Skopje’s efforts with the European Council.
Zaev last week warned that a delay in EU talks could lead to the toppling his government and allow nationalist, anti-EU forces to take power.
Meanwhile, Albanian President Edi Rama urged the EU to begin accession talks with the Western Balkan nation after a top European official said a June deadline would likely be missed.
EU Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn last year announced that talks would begin with Albania and North Macedonia in June 2019 provided the countries carried out certain reforms in areas that include the judiciary and security services.
Both countries claim they have made significant progress on the required reforms, but some EU countries have expressed concerns about accepting the two aspirants before they have raised governmental and judicial levels to Western standards.
Rama said his country had delivered on reforms demanded by Brussels, particularly on justice and the rule of law and that Albania had earned the right to start accession negotiations.
“I think that it’s time for Europe to do what we expect after having delivered — to recognize our merit and to switch a green light for accession talks,” Rama said after talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.
Juncker, who has supported beginning talks with Albania, said it was not “mission impossible” to bring around reluctant EU states, but he said it was unlikely that talks would get going this month.
“I’m not focusing on June because there are parliaments, which have to approve, they are not in session in June, so it could be later,” he said, referring to the rule that all 28 bloc members must give their OK before talks can begin.
“But my conviction is that we have to make it very crystal-clear that the moment has come to open negotiations with Albania,” Juncker added.
Rama has warned that patience is wearing thin in Albania and he called on the EU to recognize the country’s place in Europe.
“I want to say very simply that the EU should act geostrategically, geopolitically, and should act based on the merit of the countries. If the countries deserve it, the EU should not deny it,” he said.
Albania is embroiled in an internal political battle, with the ruling Socialist Party saying it would begin a process to remove President Ilir Meta after Meta said he was canceling local elections set for June 30, claiming democratic conditions were not in place.
Rama is himself the subject of street protests and accusations of corruption and vote-rigging in the previous parliamentary elections, which he denies.