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EU starts membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia

Any expansion beyond the 27 EU member states is likely to be years off.

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Ursula von der Leyen, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Petr Fiala shake hands prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, July 19, 2022. The European Union on Tuesday is starting the long enlargement process that aims to lead to the membership of Albania and North Macedonia in the bloc. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Ursula von der Leyen, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Petr Fiala shake hands prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, July 19, 2022. The European Union on Tuesday is starting the long enlargement process that aims to lead to the membership of Albania and North Macedonia in the bloc. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Ursula von der Leyen, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Petr Fiala shake hands prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, July 19, 2022. The European Union on Tuesday is starting the long enlargement process that aims to lead to the membership of Albania and North Macedonia in the bloc. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The European Union is starting the long enlargement process that aims to lead to the membership of Albania and North Macedonia in the bloc.

Any expansion beyond the 27 EU member states is likely to be years off, and both nations were already considered potential candidates 19 years ago.

Despite the stalling, the western Balkan nations have persevered in their ambition to become part of the world’s most important trade bloc.

This is not the beginning of the end, it is just the end of the beginningEdi Rama

“Today, Albania and North Macedonia open accession negotiations with the EU. This historic moment is your success. The result of your hard work,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told Albanian prime minister Edi Rama and North Macedonian premier Dimitar Kovacevski.

“This is not the beginning of the end, it is just the end of the beginning,” Mr Rama said, ahead of many years of scrutiny and possible issues with current member states who have to unanimously approve any membership expansion.

“It is how it is,” he added. “We need this to continue to build a strong, democratic, European Albania and a strong, democratic, western and open Balkans.”

Officially, the process was kicked off with the presentation of the negotiating frameworks, which will allow the EU head office to screen how well each nation is prepared to take on all the laws, rules and regulation of the bloc.

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Dimitar Kovacevski and Edi Rama (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Dimitar Kovacevski and Edi Rama (Virginia Mayo/AP)

AP/PA Images

Dimitar Kovacevski and Edi Rama (Virginia Mayo/AP)

The move comes at a crucial time for the EU, which has just reached out to war-torn Ukraine to offer it prospective membership even though western Balkan nations were kept in the queue for such a long time.

It was only last week that the North Macedonian parliament opened the way for negotiations to join, overcoming objections from Bulgaria.

The Balkan EU member state had until recently held up any progress for the accession talks, accusing North Macedonia’s government of disrespecting shared cultural, linguistic and historic ties.

Mr Kovacevski was particularly enthusiastic about promoting his country’s language.

“This open doors for our Macedonian language to become one of the official languages of the European Union. Something that I personally see as the greatest achievement, the greatest success,” he said.


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