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After the EU Enlargement Commissioner suggested separating the start of Albania’s and North Macedonia’s EU membership talks, Germany and Slovakia on Friday called for sticking to the plan of launching their talks together.

Germany and Slovakia have called for the EU to stick to the original plan of Albania and North Macedonia progressing towards eventual mem bership as part of one package.

It came after Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi’s suggested that the EU consider starting talks only with Albania in June if North Macedonia’s path is still blocked by neighbouring Bulgaria over their dispute about history and identity.

“Germany supports EU Presidency’s objective to hold first accession conferences with both Albania and North Macedonia in June. Both countries have delivered on required reforms – now EU has to deliver, too. Further delay undermines EU credibility, stability in the region,” Germany’s European Affairs Minister, Michael Roth, wrote on twitter on Friday.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok tweeted along the same lines: “Credible EU enlargement policy is now about abandoning the [Bulgarian] veto in the Council, which has to recognize progress made by North Macedonia and Albania.”

During his visit to the region this week, where he visited both Skopje and Tirana Varhelyi suggested separating the two aspirant countries.

In a statement for Euro News on Thursday, he said: “If we run into difficulties again with North Macedonia, which means that we are unsuccessful [in] convincing Bulgarian and North-Macedonia [of] a mutually agreeable solution, then the question [is] whether we can move forward with Albania only. And we will have to consider that question,” he said.

Asked if formally “disjointing” the two countries was an option, he replied: “It might be an option, yes.”

North Macedonia voiced disappointment with this idea.

“The overwhelming majority of EU member states support having IGCs [Inter-Governmental Conferences] with both Albania and North Macedonia,” the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Nikola Dimitrov, commented.

He added that whether the EU will keep its promise to North Macedonia represented “a test for the EU’s credibility in the Western Balkans”.

Originally, Albania and North Macedonia were set to begin membership talks together, but in 2019 France and The Netherlands blocked the process, primarily querying Albania’s preparedness, and insisting on revising the EU’s enlargement strategy before launching talks with any would-be members.

After this was finished in February 2020, and the European Commission issued the revised strategy, the hope was to launch the talks late in 2020.

But, despite high hopes, the EU Council of Ministers last November failed to adopt a negotiating framework for North Macedonia which would allow the start of accession talks, this time citing objections from Bulgaria, on the Macedonian language, national identity and some contested historical figures that both countries claim as their own.

The roles have thus switched, and Albania now has to wait for North Macedonia to overcome the blockade from Bulgaria.

Ahead of the next EU meetings in June, however, there is little hope that North Macedonia can reach any agreement with Bulgaria, especially since last month’s inconclusive elections in Bulgaria created more uncertainty over which parties will form a government in Sofia.

Source: BalkanInsight, BIRN, Sinisa Jakov Marusic; Photo:EPA-EFE/Georgi Licovski

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