Fri, 10 Apr 2020

The European Union could open membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia within weeks amid good progress made by the two Balkan countries in their preparations, the 27-member bloc's enlargement chief, Oliver Varhelyi, said on February 27.

France, which together with the Netherlands blocked the opening of talks with the two in October, earlier this month indicated that enlargement talks could start if the European Commission, the bloc's executive body, gave them a positive review next month.

Varhelyi said that the commission's report, due to be released next week, was encouraging.

'There is serious progress in both countries. I am very encouraged by the fact that these two countries have chosen to accelerate [their preparations],' he said after a meeting of the Visegrad Group with the western Balkans states hosted by Prague.

'With this report I do hope to convince member states that they are ready and we should be ready to open negotiations,' Varhelyi said, adding that he hoped 'very much to start negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania in the coming weeks.'

However, Varhelyi separately told RFE/RL, 'there is no such thing as cast-iron guarantee in politics,' adding, 'What I try to rely on is progress that we can report on, achievements on the ground.'

'I hope that this will be taken into due account and this will convince the two member states [France and The Netherlands], who have been unable to support the opening of accession negotiations in October, now to come on board,' Varhelyi said.

If allowed to open enlargement negotiations, the stage would be set for a summit with EU leaders and all six western Balkan candidate countries - Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, and North Macedonia -- in Croatia in May.

French President Emmanuel Macron had refused to approve the start of accession talks at a summit in October, saying the process of admitting new members needed to change.

The European Commission earlier this month proposed reforms to the enlargement process along the lines of a French proposal made in November, giving EU governments more say and making it easier to stop or reset negotiations and freeze funds.

Membership talks usually take years to complete.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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