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26th Sep 2022

NATO to enlarge to two Balkan countries

  • For Albania, joining NATO is “the most important development since independence”, says PM Sali Berisha (l) (Photo: NATO)

NATO leaders gathered in Bucharest on Wednesday (2 April) agreed to admit two Balkan countries – Croatia and Albania – to the organisation, but an unsolved dispute between Skopje and Athens has delayed Macedonia's invitation.

During a dinner on Wednesday evening, all 26 NATO members agreed Zagreb and Tirana should be invited to join the Alliance, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said at a press briefing after the meal.

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But the Greek delegation "made it very clear that until the name issue is resolved," offering NATO membership to Macedonia would "not be possible," he added according to German news agency DPA.

"No solution [of the Macedonia name issue] means no invitation," Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis had told reporters when leaving for Bucharest.

Greece and Macedonia have been deadlocked in a fight over the former Yugoslav country's name for 17 years now. Greece refuses to recognise its constitutional name - Republic of Macedonia - because a northern Greek region is also called Macedonia and it fears possible territorial claims.

EU implications?

Meanwhile, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said before the dinner that if Macedonia did not get an invitation to join NATO, it would be a bad sign for EU enlargement as well, according to Macedonian news agency Makfax.

Croatia and Albania also link NATO membership to their EU integration.

"Membership in NATO will be a stimulus to our partners on the other side of the table to accept Croatia as a full member of the European Union", Croatian premier Ivo Sanader was quoted as saying by daily Javno on Thursday (3 April).

For his part, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha told the Associated Press that joining NATO would represent for his country "the most important development since independence."

According to Mr Berisha, admitting Albania into NATO will also offer "credentials for fast integration into the European Union."

But he also stressed the importance of Macedonia being invited as well: "I am afraid that radicals from all ethnic groups could be encouraged" by a delay.

A final decision on the enlargement of the Alliance is to be taken today (3 April).

Ukraine and Georgia

Ukraine and Georgia's ambitions to join the military alliance have been thwarted by a camp of EU states including Germany and France who are afraid of antagonising Russia, who is strongly against their membership.

"We are convinced that it is too early to grant both states the [pre-membership] status," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at her arrival in Bucharest, BBC reported.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon also expressed his country's opposition to Georgia and Ukraine's NATO entry at this stage, "because we think that it is not a good answer to the balance of power within Europe and between Europe and Russia".

NATO leaders did however agree that both Kiev and Tbilisi were entitled to apply to join the organisation and that it was "not a matter of whether but of when," Mr Appathurai said.

"But for the moment I do not expect membership action plans for Georgia or Ukraine here,'' he added.

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