EU eager to start accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia

EC – Audiovisual Service | Visit of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to Albania

The EU’s politically independent executive arm. It is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that she will fully support Albania and North Macedonia’s accession to the EU after vising both countries on Tuesday, 28 September.

The Commission submitted proposals for negotiating frameworks with both countries in July 2021. Now, an intergovernmental conference should be held among the EU The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. Member States and the two Western Balkan countries to progress with accession talks. 

Von der Leyen’s statement leaves hope that the intergovernmental conference will be held as soon as possible as she said ‘I really want to bring this process [the accession talks] forward, so that we can start before the end of the year. That is the goal’. The statement comes during a regional tour in Western Balkan countries before the EU-Western Balkan Summit starts next week (October 6).


Albania was the first country von der Leyen visited, and Macedonia followed suit. The two countries have for a long time awaited to join the EU. Albania applied for EU membership in 2009 and has been an official candidate for accession since 2014. North Macedonia applied in 2004 and it became an official candidate in 2005. 

When a non-EU country applies to join the EU, every European Member State has to agree on the accession process. So, one Member State’s veto is sufficient to stop accession talks. Moreover, the applicant country needs to prove that it embraces the EU’s values, meaning democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It also has to adjust its institutional and socio-economic infrastructures to European standards.

So, why haven’t Albania and North Macedonia joined yet?

The EU coupled Albania and North Macedonia’s accession talks as of 2019. The two countries have since then negotiated with the EU together, based on a parallel track. That same year, France, Denmark and the Netherlands blocked Albania and North Macedonia’s accession process. Paris, in particular, believed that internal reforms within the EU were more urgent than the enlargement process. Also, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that despite the two Western Balkan countries have made some progress in reforming their economy and the rule of law, more was to be done. 

Are Albania and North Macedonia ready to join now?

Commission President von der Leyen praised both countries for their improvements in implementing EU reforms during her visit. Von der Leyen complimented Albania on its progress in fighting against organized crime, money laundering, and in promoting criminal justice and the protection of minorities. Macedonia was complimented for its progress on the protection of the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime. 

However, there are still some hurdles. Bulgaria vetoed North Macedonia’s accession based on a language dispute in December last year. The modern Macedonian is, according to Sophia, a variant of Bulgarian and not a different language. In contrast, Skopje claims that there are no linguistic linkages between them.

If the two countries do not find an agreement on that, Bulgaria might still block North Macedonia’s accession. If this is the case, two possible scenarios are expected. Either the EU decouples the accession talks, moving forward with Albania and leaving North Macedonia behind, or both will be blocked.

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