EU Governments Reach Breakthrough Over Balkans Expansion Plan

(Bloomberg) -- European Union governments revived the membership hopes of North Macedonia and Albania by overcoming a French roadblock after months of deliberations, according to an EU official.

Envoys of the 27-nation EU recommended that the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, take the necessary step to trigger accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Clinched through several days of intensive behind-the-scenes exchanges while EU leaders grappled with the coronavirus pandemic, the diplomatic breakthrough on Monday in Brussels now goes to national governments for formal approval. Ministers are due to scrutinize the deal during a video conference on Tuesday.

EU Governments Reach Breakthrough Over Balkans Expansion Plan

The EU wants to keep alive the prospect of North Macedonia and Albania joining to avoid political instability in a region still scarred by the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The bloc also wants to prevent a political vacuum that could play into the hands of Russia and China.

Three other countries in the region have begun EU entry talks: Serbia in 2014, Montenegro in 2012 and Turkey in 2005.

Last October, France blocked the EU’s goal of starting membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania during the first half of 2020, insisting on tougher scrutiny to ensure their respect for the rule of law.

To address the French concerns, the Brussels-based commission in February proposed changes to the way the EU vets aspiring members by giving more weight to “fundamentals,” including the functioning of the judicial system and democratic institutions.

The deal on Monday in the Belgian capital gives the commission the go-ahead to draw up a “negotiating framework” for North Macedonia and for Albania.

The breakthrough came after the member-country diplomats scrapped the idea of fixing a June deadline for the commission to produce these documents, deciding instead on no specific timetable. The envoys also beefed up conditions for Albania before it can actually begin the entry talks.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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