European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says she hopes to start EU membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia before the end of the year as frustration grows in the Western Balkans facing the snail pace of progress on the issue.
“We have asked a lot of you and you have kept our word. We will do everything to overcome the obstacles that we have at the moment and which should not hamper the enlargement process,” von der Leyen said on September 28 at a visit to Albania. capital, Tirana.
“I really want to move this process forward so that we can start before the end of the year,” said von der Leyen, who is on a regional tour ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit on 6 October.
France blocked the start of negotiations with the two Western Balkan countries in 2019, which has been criticized by some other EU members. Bulgaria is now blocking the start of talks over a language dispute with neighboring North Macedonia.
EU rules require a unanimous vote to start talks with potential new member states. The EU has said it wants to start talks with Tirana and Skopje at the same time, which means Bulgaria’s veto over North Macedonia has an impact on Albania.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who met Von der Leyen, called the situation “absurd”.
In an interview with RFE / RL earlier this month, US Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar, who oversees the Western Balkans, called on the EU to start talks this year with the two countries, saying they had fulfilled the conditions.
Some US and EU officials say further delays in accepting Western Balkan countries into the bloc will only open the door to greater Russian and Chinese influence.
The six Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – are at different stages on the path to EU membership.
The EU has not enlarged since Croatia’s acceptance into the bloc in 2013.
The 2008-2009 global financial crisis, the European migration crisis in 2015 and Brexit are among the factors that have delayed the expansion.
Separately, 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 dollars). dollars) of 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), she said. declared.