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19th Jan 2020

EU paths fork for Albania and North Macedonia

  • North Macedonia prime minister Zoran Zaev (l) said Germany had pledged to give green light in September (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Germany will agree to open EU accession talks with North Macedonia in September, Skopje has said, but Albania's prospects look less bright.

"We are convinced that North Macedonia will start negotiations with the EU this year," Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev said in a statement on Thursday (13 June) after meeting German leader Angela Merkel in Berlin.

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"Chancellor Merkel informed us that the Bundestag will make a decision in September to approve the start of EU negotiations with North Macedonia in line with Germany's confirmed enlargement procedures," he added.

The German statement on the meeting was less outspoken, saying only that the two leaders had discussed "foreign and European policy issues" and praising North Macedonia's recent name deal with Greece.

Skopje had hoped that EU states' ministers meeting in a General Affairs Council next week would already give the green light in line with a European Commission recommendation.

But that was made impossible after the Bundestag put off its decision on the issue until after the summer recess.

"Germany can't take the decision because it hasn't been able to do its parliamentary procedure. Probably at the earliest, thus will happen in September," an EU diplomat said.

The EU Council president, Donald Tusk, summed up the situation while meeting Macedonian president Stevo Pendarovski in Brussels on Wednesday.

"Your country has delivered all the right political signals that the EU was expecting from the candidates. You have done everything that was expected of you," he said.

"But I want to be honest with you: not all member states are prepared to make the decision on opening negotiations in the coming days," Tusk added.

The German delay comes amid wider enlargement-scepticism in Denmark, France, and the Netherlands.

Dutch MPs, on Wednesday, voted against a resolution to block North Macedonia accession this year.

But 105 out of 150 of them did back one to block Albania talks due to concerns about organised crime and corruption, even though the EU commission had also given Tirana the green light.

"Given that Albania is not achieving sufficient tangible results [in the fight against crime], parliament calls on the Dutch government not to agree with the commission's proposal," the resolution said.

"This doesn't leave much room for interoperation," the EU diplomat added, on Albania's chances of getting an EU consensus to start talks any time soon.

But Albanian police, also on Wednesday, tried to polish the country's image by announcing they had broken up a gang of human traffickers who were smuggling migrants into the EU.

The Turkish-led group had trafficked Iraqi, Turkish, and Syrian nationals via Greece, Albania, and Montenegro into Croatia, the police said.

The EU's Frontex border control agency, which began patrolling the Albanian-Greek border from 22 May had already intercepted 229 irregular migrants there, the Albanian police noted, according to the Reuters news agency.

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