EU Opens Membership Talks With Albania & North Macedonia After Fast-Tracking Ukraine Candidacy
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced the opening of accession talks for the tiny Western Balkan countries of Albania and North Macedonia on Tuesday, calling the move a “historic moment”.
“This is what your citizens have been waiting for so long and have been working for so hard, and this is what they deserve,” von der Leyen said in Brussels while issuing congratulations to the prime ministers of Albania and North Macedonia Edi Rama and Dimitar Kovachevski.
“This historic moment is your success. The result of your hard work,” she tweeted in another message, saying the EU Commission has supported the two countries’ efforts and will “continue to do so”.
The bloc’s 27 members agreed to open the formal accession talks on the heels of North Macedonia recently healing a long, fierce dispute with its EU neighbor Bulgaria, which had in turn had long blocked progress on EU talks. The issues centered on linguistic, cultural and interpretations of national identities.
Among other things, Bulgarian had charged North Macedonia with “hate speech” for refusing to officially acknowledge its minority Bulgarian population or that the country’s language has Bulgarian roots. The recent compromise reached has been denounced and rejected by nationalists on both sides.
North Macedonia’s path toward this moment has been a very long one, given it was issued ‘candidate status’ for EU membership nearly 20 years ago. Albania was awarded candidacy in 2014.
US state-funded RFERL observes, “The strategic importance of the Western Balkans to the EU has increased since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, with fears over Moscow’s influence in the region.”
Ukraine’s government is also closely watching the small Balkan countries’ progress. Just as with Ukraine, Albania has been widely viewed as historically wrought with deep-rooted and systemic corruption. According to a January 2022 study:
Albania has fallen down the list of the world’s most corrupt countries, coming in at 110 out of 180. This marks a decline of 27 places since 2016, and six places since 2020, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2021.
It scored just 35 points out of a possible 100, placing it in the same league as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Malawi, Mongolia, and Thailand. Regionally it was surpassed by North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo.
The world average was a score of 43 out of 100, putting Albania a full eight points below average. In Europe, the average score was 66 out of 100, meaning Albania was almost 50% below, falling far behind its European counterparts.
Though Ukraine last month was formally issued EU candidate status alongside Moldova, having been fast-tracked amid an outpouring of support in wake of the Russian invasion, many analysts have predicted it could take years if not possibly decades to actually enter into membership.
Tue, 07/19/2022 – 09:45