EU’s Von Der Leyen Rekindles Membership Hopes for Western Balkans

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s top policy maker expressed optimism about unblocking the membership path for North Macedonia and Albania by the time of a special Balkans summit in early May.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would propose changes “early this year” to the way the EU vets aspiring members. In October, France vetoed the bloc’s goal to start accession 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.

EU’s Von Der Leyen Rekindles Membership Hopes for Western Balkans

Von der Leyen also signaled that the green light for entry talks with both nations could come in the run-up to the scheduled May 6-7 summit in Zagreb, Croatia. It may happen even if EU capitals have yet to agree on the forthcoming proposal by the commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

“This is a parallel process to renew the methodology and to keep on going with those two countries,” she told reporters on Friday in the Croatian capital. “I’m looking forward to this new proposal and I’m sure that we’ll then be successful.”

Croatia Vows to Fight for EU Hopes of North Macedonia, Albania

The EU is scrambling to revive the longstanding membership hopes of North Macedonia and Albania in an effort to avoid political instability in a region still grappling with the aftermath of the bloody Yugoslav civil war in the 1990s. The bloc also wants to prevent a vacuum that could play into the hands of Russia and China.

The French snub prompted the resignation of North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, this month. Zaev, who is a strong supporter of EU membership, last year pushed through a name change for his country so it could resolve a dispute with Greece and open the way to entry talks.

The goal for North Macedonia and Albania is to ensure “that the door is open and that they can start the accession talks,” von der Leyen said on Friday. “We’ve asked them a lot to fulfill as criteria; they did so, so we shouldn’t change now the conditions or rules for them.”

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic of Croatia, a strong supporter of EU membership for the western Balkans, on Thursday sounded upbeat about the possibility of finding common ground after he held talks on the matter with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the week.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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