For years Albania and North Macedonia have been waiting for negotiations to begin on their EU accession. During a visit to the Western Balkans, Chancellor Merkel was disappointed – and made a promise.
On her last visit as Federal Chancellor to the countries of the Western Balkans, Angela Merkel expressed her disappointment with the faltering EU accession process for Albania and North Macedonia. “Unfortunately,” the EU’s promised accession negotiations with the two countries have still not started, said Merkel on Tuesday in the Albanian capital Tirana. Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama thanked her for her years of efforts.
The EU must now “keep its word,” said Merkel. If the conditions for further steps in the accession process are met, these must also be carried out. It could not be that the EU would then simply come up with new conditions “for domestic political reasons, perhaps in some countries”. “Otherwise there will be disappointment and there has already been such disappointment.”
Agreement after a long dispute
At the beginning of last year, the 27 EU states agreed on accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia after a long dispute. The EU Commission had already certified both countries in 2018 that they had implemented the necessary reforms. However, some EU countries, above all France, put the brakes on until the procedure for future accession candidates was tightened.
Negotiations have still not started since then. The EU country Bulgaria has been blocking the conclusion of the necessary framework agreement for months. The government in Sofia demands that North Macedonia must first recognize Bulgarian roots in its language, population and history. This was preceded by a year-long blockade of Greece because of a historical name dispute with the former Macedonia.
Next meeting in October
The current Slovenian EU Presidency has scheduled a summit meeting with the countries of the Western Balkans for October 6th. On this occasion, however, she only expected “small, not excessive” progress, said the Chancellor.
For Merkel, the ongoing delays mean a setback. For years she has been campaigning for a rapprochement between the Western Balkans and the EU in the “Berlin Process” she initiated. In this context, she traveled one last time to Serbia and Albania. In Tirana she held multilateral and bilateral talks with the heads of government of Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo.
She assured the federal states that Germany would continue to stand up for them regardless of the outcome of the Bundestag election. “Every new Federal Chancellor will have a heart for this region.”
Merkel wants to remain “a friend of the Balkans”
Merkel added that she would continue to get involved personally. She does not intend to take an active political role after the end of her term of office, “but I will remain a friend of the Balkans and if I am asked for advice I will certainly give advice”.
Albania’s Prime Minister Rama used the joint press conference to praise Merkel and her commitment. Nobody understood the Western Balkans better than the German Chancellor and no country had contributed as much as Germany to the region “today is a much better place”. “Our region will miss Chancellor Angela Merkel.”
The West, most recently in the form of the EU, and Russia have always struggled for influence in the Western Balkans. China’s influence has also increased significantly in recent years. Observers warn that the EU’s reluctance to act could encourage these competing influences.