The European Commission would like to start EU membership talks with Albania and Macedonia, in line with its new priority of the integration of the Western Balkans. The EU’s fresh interest in the region has gotten a new impetus in the past year with Brussels focusing on resolving conflicts with the bloc’s neighbors. The EU has also embraced a more reform-friendly approach in response to its growing fear about the greater interest of non-EU countries, mostly Russia and China, to reap benefits in the region.
The Commission’s proposal came as part of a regular enlargement report but it still needs to be approved by all 28 member states and their approval is not straightforward. In case of Macedonia, its EU membership is not welcome by Greece since Athens does not approve of the country’s very name, which is the same as that of a northern Greek province. Following two decades of UN-supervised talks, there is still no solution in sight. However, Skopje has recently signaled willingness to make concessions and solve the issue and there are expectations that this move will translate into an invitation to launch negotiations.
As to Albania, the tiny country has managed to mitigate its internal divisions, although some nationalist statements from the Albanian leadership have been occasionally disturbing for NATO allies. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, however, said in his statement that the enlargement report sends “a strong signal of encouragement to our country and our people, confirming that we are on the right path and setting the scene for the journey of reform that has only just begun”.