North Macedonia and Albania have both delivered results and appear ready to open accession talks, the European Commission said in updated progress reports published on Monday – ahead of a major decision expected in the coming weeks.
By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Albania and North Macedonia have “stepped up their work and delivered further tangible and sustainable results in the key areas,” since June 2018 the revised European Commission progress reports published on Monday said.
Together with the recently presented new EU enlargement methodology, the positive reports are expected to boost the chances of both countries getting a start date to open accession negotiations.
“The European Commission stands firmly by its recommendations to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and I hope that the Member States will take a positive decision in the coming weeks,” Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi wrote.
On Albania, the updated report outlines progress made in justice reform and in vetting judges and prosecutors, as well as its improved track record in the fight against corruption and organised crime, “including when it comes to cannabis cultivation and hard drugs trafficking”.
The report also noted progress in other relevant issues, such as a political agreement on the way forward to electoral reform and efforts to tackle unfounded asylum claims.
On North Macedonia, the updated report said the country had taken “significant steps to strengthen the independence of the judiciary”, including the recent adoption of an EU-sought Law on the Prosecution, which parliament passed in mid-February before it dissolved for the April elections.
North Macedonia also “shows an improved track record in the fight against corruption and organised crime as well as progress in the reform of intelligence services and public administration”, the Commission noted.
The Commission started work on a new enlargement methodology, presented last month, and prepared the updated country reports, after the European Council in Brussels last October sank North Macedonia’s and Albania’s hopes of getting a start date for membership talks, insisting on reforms of the enlargement process first. France was joined by other enlargement-sceptic countries in dashing Albania’s hopes.
Unable to offer to open membership talks, the Council then only said it would revert to the issue before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb, Croatia, in May.
However, there is hope now in Brussels, Tirana and Skopje that the progress noted in the new reports, as well as the new enlargement methodology, may persuade France and other sceptical countries to allow the offer of a start date for membership talks sooner than May.
This would be especially good news for North Macedonia’s pro-European government, led by the Social Democrats, who are expecting a tough electoral fight to stay in power in the April 12 elections.