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Michel Urges Start of EU Accession Talks With North Macedonia, Albania

President of European Council Donald Tusk (R) welcomes President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski (L) prior to their bilateral meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on June 12, 2019. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, urged the European Union (EU) on Thursday to open accession negotiations with both North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible.

At a press conference held here jointly with North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski, Michel said that the opening of EU accession talks is equally important to the two countries and to the wider region, especially in light of the recent geopolitical developments.

Earlier on Thursday, Michel and Pendarovski discussed North Macedonia’s EU prospects and ways to overcome the associated challenges.

The conflict in Ukraine “has opened a new chapter in European history and has put enlargement to the forefront,” Michel said.

Accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania “should start as soon as possible. This is a top priority, and we support all efforts to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the open bilateral issue with Bulgaria,” Michel added.

North Macedonia’s EU path is currently blocked by a veto from Bulgaria, which insists on changes to the country’s constitution to recognize the Bulgarian minority there; remove “hate speech” from textbooks and resolve disputes over language and history.

Michel said that the EU will do everything in its power to unblock the accession process.

Pendarovski said that the delay in starting accession talks “damages the EU’s credibility both in the country and abroad.”

“Putting conditions by an (EU) member state to a candidate country by citing bilateral issues violates not only the promise of the Western Balkan countries’ European future but could also fully compromise the EU’s enlargement policy and could turn into a dangerous precedent that may put an end to the process,” Pendarovski said.

Pendarovski said that his country’s commitment to its EU integration path is clearly shown by its “100-percent alignment with the EU’s foreign and security policy.”

He said that North Macedonia will welcome any initiative that could contribute to the acceleration of the integration process.

North Macedonia was Michel’s last stop on his tour of the Western Balkan countries. Next week he will attend the EU-Western Balkan leaders’ meeting on June 23 and the EU summit on June 23-24.

North Macedonia and Albania have both been waiting to hold their first intergovernmental meetings with the EU since March 2020.