Wednesday

21st Apr 2021

EU Parliament endorses Balkan accession talks

  • North Macedonia president Stevo Pendarovski (r) with EU enlargement commissioner Olivér Várhelyi (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European Parliament is demanding EU accession talks start with North Macedonia and Albania.

The endorsement followed a plenary vote on Thursday (25 March) - amid similar support from the European Commission.

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The move may add additional pressure on member states to reach the required unanimity for any such talks to start.

Among the hold-ups is Bulgaria, which vetoed accession talks with North Macedonia last November. Sofia retains deep-seated historical and language grievances with North Macedonia.

The two also have sizeable minorities in each other's respective countries - triggering mutual accusations of right violations.

Olivér Varhelyi, the EU enlargement commissioner, demanded the two sides stop fighting. He said the tensions "might undermine the EU's wider interest" in the Western Balkans.

The European Parliament's lead MEP on North Macedonia is Bulgarian liberal Ilhan Kyuchyuk.

He too appealed for calm. "Both countries must find a common solution to their history, to their past," he told reporters.

But his colleague, Bulgarian centre-right MEP Andrey Kovatchev, remained entrenched and claimed the dispute has nothing to do with culture or history.

He then used historical references while calling out Slovenian socialist MEP Tanja Fajon, who supports North Macedonia's bid.

"Is it for you [Fajon] a historical provocation towards the Slovenian people, if I say say something about the atrocities of Tito's communism?" he asked.

He also referenced Eurovision, noting that a North Macedonia contestant was the target of abuse after making known his Bulgarian origins.

"The Bulgarian veto to North Macedonia is irresponsible," retorted Fajon, describing it as a one-sided interest.

The EU presidency, steered by Portugal, offered a more measured analysis.

Speaking on behalf the presidency, Ana Paula Zacarias, said they are still hoping official accession talks could start before June.

"Consistent progress has been achieved," she said of North Macedonia. But she also added that deeper reforms are needed.

She made a similar assessment for Albania, but noted the country's "political environment remains strongly polarised".

Albania also received strong endorsement from the MEP leading the file, Portugal's centre-left Isabel Santos.

"What is fundamental is to say 'yes', to say yes to Albania once-and-for-all," she told reporters.

However, a US state department report published earlier this month, remained critical of Albania.

It said Albania "had made no significant progress toward thwarting money laundering and financial crimes in 2020."

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