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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Albania and North Macedonia close to joining the European Union

The two Balkan states signed a deal that would allow North Macedonia and Albania to formally start talks to join the European Union, a process long delayed by bilateral disputes between countries in the volatile region.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani signed the protocol with his Bulgarian counterpart in the Bulgarian capital Sofia yesterday.

The move comes a day after North Macedonia’s parliament approved an EU proposal that aims to resolve the Balkan dispute and help unlock the organization’s expansion.

Bulgaria blocked the start of accession negotiations for years due to conflicts over the recognition of the Macedonian language and the rights of Bulgarian citizens within North Macedonia.

The negotiations for Albania were also delayed, as it has been linked with North Macedonia in the membership processes.

The document signed yesterday will guide Bulgaria and North Macedonia through the resolution of the disagreement.

“It is a historic occasion for us that after 17 years of candidate status, the Republic of North Macedonia gets the opportunity to start accession talks with the European Union,” said Mr. Osmani.

On Saturday, 68 lawmakers in North Macedonia’s 120-member assembly voted in favor of a proposal by the European Union to give the government a withdrawal of a framework for talks.

By approving the EU’s proposal, “we remain on the only road to which no one has given a choice”, Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevsky said on Thursday at the start of a three-day debate. “We are starting to move quickly and change the country in the process of negotiations.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told lawmakers in Skopje that the deal could allow North Macedonia to hold its first intergovernmental conference with the EU – the formal start of talks – “within the next few days”.

The US State Department welcomed Saturday’s vote.

“We recognize the difficult trade-offs involved in this agreement, which acknowledges and respects the cultural identity of North Macedonia and the language of Macedonians,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in an emailed statement.

The former Yugoslav country has faced several obstacles on its way to western integration, including changing its official name to resolve a dispute with neighboring Greece before joining NATO in 2020.

Still, the deal has sparked tensions in North Macedonia, where thousands of people have protested for two weeks.

The opposition said the EU resolution did not adequately guarantee the recognition of the country’s language and national identity.

Both the government and EU officials in Skopje rejected these claims.

Opposition lawmakers surrounded Mr Kovacevsky as he spoke on Thursday. Thousands of people protested outside Parliament House, in which 10 people were detained.

The EU-backed deal seeks to ease doubts among Balkan countries that the bloc is still committed to expansion, amid concerns of growing Russian influence.

World Nation News Desk
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