Albania and North Macedonia are nearing EU accession

Two Balkan states have signed an agreement allowing North Macedonia and Albania to officially start negotiations to join the European Union, a process long delayed by bilateral disputes between countries in the volatile region.

North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani signed the protocol yesterday with his Bulgarian counterpart in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

The move came a day after North Macedonia’s parliament approved a European Union proposal aimed at settling a dispute in the Balkans and pushing ahead with the organisation’s expansion.

Bulgaria had blocked the start of accession talks for years because of a conflict over the recognition of the Macedonian language and the rights of Bulgarian nationals in North Macedonia.

Albania’s negotiations were also delayed because it was linked to North Macedonia in the accession process.

The document signed yesterday will guide Bulgaria and North Macedonia in resolving the disagreements.

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

On Saturday, 68 MPs in North Macedonia’s 120-strong assembly voted in favor of a motion to let the government leave behind a negotiating framework offered by the EU.

With the approval of the EU proposal, Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said on Thursday at the beginning of a three-day debate that “we are staying on the only path to which no one has offered an alternative.”

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

The US State Department welcomed Saturday’s vote.

“We recognize the difficult compromises that have been considered in this compromise, which recognizes and respects North Macedonia’s cultural identity and the Macedonian language,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in an emailed statement.

The former Yugoslav country faced several hurdles on its way to Western integration, including changing its official name to settle a dispute with neighboring Greece before joining NATO in 2020.

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

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

Both the Skopje government and EU officials have denied these claims.

Opposition lawmakers berated Mr Kovacevski on Thursday as he spoke. Thousands protested in front of the parliament building and ten people were arrested.

The EU-backed deal aims to allay Balkan countries’ doubts that the bloc is still committed to enlargement amid growing Russian influence.

Bloomberg Albania and North Macedonia are nearing EU accession

Fry Electronics Team

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