Albania complains that its application for EU membership is held hostage

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) – The Albanian Prime Minister complained on Tuesday about the delay in launching EU membership negotiations with his country, saying Bulgaria’s veto was holding the process hostage.

Edi Rama spoke at a press conference with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is on a regional tour ahead of the European Council’s October 6 summit on the Western Balkans.

Rama called the situation in Albania “absurd”, noting that Bulgaria is blocking the start of talks with North Macedonia and, therefore, is also delaying Albania.

The Western Balkan states – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – are at different stages on the path to EU membership. Their progress in integration has been delayed recently due to the bloc’s stalled interest in enlargement and the years of diplomatic turmoil the EU faced when Britain left the bloc.

Albania and North Macedonia have both met the criteria to start accession negotiations, but EU member Bulgaria opposes North Macedonia’s membership, citing a bilateral dispute over history and national identity. Since the offers of the two countries are linked and the launch of accession negotiations with a potential member requires the unanimous approval of the 27 countries of the EU, the veto has also prevented Albania from moving forward. before.

Von der Leyen pledged to make efforts to persuade EU countries to hold intergovernmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia this year. Senior US officials have also warned that Western adversaries will continue to gain influence in the region if the dispute is still not resolved.

“We asked a lot of you and you delivered. We will do everything to overcome the obstacles that we currently have and which should not hamper the enlargement process, ”said von der Leyen.

“I really want to move this process forward so that we can get started before the end of the year.”

Von der Leyen said the bloc is focused on mobilizing 9 billion euros ($ 10.5 billion) in projects and potentially up to 20 billion euros ($ 23.5 billion) in investments in 2021-2027 for the region and its population of 18 million. This year, he’s secured half a billion euros ($ 585 million) for projects in the Western Balkans, and he’s looking to find an additional 600 million euros ($ 700 million).

One of Europe’s youngest nations, North Macedonia, has spent years resolving disputes with Greece that have kept it from joining the European Union and NATO. The country’s path to join the club of rich Europeans is now blocked by Bulgaria.

The government in Sofia wants North Macedonia to formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots and to end what it says is anti-Bulgarian rhetoric.

Von der Leyen also visited North Macedonia on Tuesday and will continue his trip to the rest of the Western Balkans later in the week.

“The future of North Macedonia is in the European Union, we want you by our side,” von der Leyen said at a press conference with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. “Now it’s up to the European Union to keep its promises. “

Zaev said any further blockage damages the EU’s credibility.

“We have taken all the necessary measures and we have made all the necessary reforms,” he said. “We will take the further acceptable steps to unblock EU enlargement and we hope Bulgaria will unblock this process.”

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Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report from Brussels.


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