LONDON – Nationalist forces will grow stronger in the Balkans if Albania and North Macedonia are not given the green light to launch EU accession talks by autumn, stated Prime Ministers Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev for Financial Times.
Two leaders have issued their warning as EU foreign ministers postponed the decision on whether to open membership negotiations until October.
“The two countries have embarked on far-reaching reforms to meet EU standards, but the opposition from France and the Netherlands postponed the start of formal membership talks despite the recommendation from the European Commission” writes Financial Times.
“We don’t need some new radicalism, nationalism and populism in our country”, said Zaev and added that it is not very important if his country gets the decision from the European Council in June or October, but if it is October, it should be the final date, because there was a lot of postponing.
Prime Minister Rama stated that it could hurt the EU if the region of the Western Balkans, which is surrounded by EU countries, is not fully integrated into the bloc.
“The Western Balkans are like an organ of the body that is dragging and bleeding. It is not feasible to keep it out like this: it can be infected, it can be dangerous for the whole body,” concluded Rama for the Financial Times.
He emphasized that if the Commission’s positive assessment were to be ignored by states skeptical of enlargement, it would further destabilise the region.
“We don’t need new bad things to happen to realise that every setback in this process fuels nationalism, fuels fantasies, fuels harmful dreams” added Rama.
According to the Financial Times, the North Macedonia, which narrowly averted a civil war in 2001, became a rare success story for the region last year when it ended a decades-long dispute with Greece over its name, though the decision was hotly contested at home.
Commenting on the Prespa agreement on changing the country’s name with Greece, Zaev told the Financial Times that the Macedonian public is dependent on progress on the EU and that rejection from EU member states would strengthen calls to abrogate deal with Greece.
Last June, after the deal was signed but before the country held a referendum, EU leaders promised to “set out the path towards opening accession in June 2019”.
The commission has recommended launching talks with Macedonia for the past 15 years, and with Tirana since 2014.
Zaev seemed hopeful that North Macedonia would be given the go-ahead later this year but there is more skepticism in some European capitals about Albania’s readiness to begin formal talks.
The Dutch parliament voted last week to decouple North Macedonia’s accession process from Albania’s, on the heels of another resolution calling to revoke Albania’s visa-free travel to the EU.