Albanian Prime Minister complained about delay in launching negotiations for his country’s accession to the European Union
TIRANA, Albania (AP) – The Albanian Prime Minister complained on Tuesday about the delay in launching EU membership negotiations with his country, saying Bulgaria’s veto was holding the process hostage.
Edi Rama spoke at a press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is on a regional tour ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit on October 6.
Rama called the situation in Albania “absurd”, noting that Bulgaria is blocking the start of talks with North Macedonia and, therefore, is also delaying Albania.
The countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – are at different stages on the path to EU membership. Recent factors that have held back their progress include the bloc’s stalled interest in enlargement and years of diplomatic turmoil over Brexit.
Albania and North Macedonia have both met the criteria to start accession negotiations, but EU member Bulgaria opposes North Macedonia’s membership, citing a bilateral dispute over history and national identity. Since the offers of the two countries are linked and the launch of the accession talks requires the unanimous approval of the 27 countries of the EU, the veto has also prevented Albania from moving forward.
Von der Leyen pledged to try to persuade EU countries to hold intergovernmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia this year. Senior US officials have also warned that Western adversaries will continue to gain influence in the region, if the dispute is still not resolved.
“We asked a lot of you, and you delivered. We will do everything to overcome the obstacles that we currently have and which should not hamper the enlargement process, ”said von der Leyen.
“I really want to move this process forward so that we can start before the end of the year,” she said.
Von der Leyen said the EU was focusing on mobilizing 9 billion euros ($ 10.5 billion) in projects and potentially up to 20 billion euros ($ 23.5 billion) in investments in 2021-2027 for the Western Balkans and the 18 million inhabitants of the region.
The bloc has secured half a billion euros ($ 585 million) this year for projects in the Western Balkans, and it is seeking to find an additional 600 million euros ($ 700 million).
One of the youngest nations in Europe, North Macedonia has spent years in a conflict with Greece that prevented it from joining the European Union and NATO. The country’s path to club membership is now blocked by Bulgaria.
The government in Sofia wants North Macedonia to formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots and to end what it says is anti-Bulgarian rhetoric.
Von der Leyen also visited North Macedonia on Tuesday and is expected to visit other countries in the Western Balkans later in the week.
“The future of North Macedonia lies in the European Union. We want you by our side, “von der Leyen said at a press conference with North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.” Now it is up to the European Union to keep its promises. “
Zaev said any further blockage damages the EU’s credibility.
“We have taken all the necessary measures and we have carried out all the necessary reforms,” he said. “We will take the further acceptable steps to unblock EU enlargement and we hope Bulgaria will unblock this process.”
Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report from Brussels.