The European Commission has recommended starting talks for Albania and Macedonia to join the EU.
This recommendation needs to be signed off in June by the EU’s heads of government, who will weigh the merits and costs of the states entering the bloc.
If they take place, these will be the first EU accession talks held for almost five years. The countries would join two other Western Balkan states, Serbia and Montenegro, in discussing EU membership. Serbia and Montenegro could have membership granted as early as 2025.
The European Commission’s new recommendations are apparently motivated by the progress made by Serbia and Montenegro.
Federica Mogherini, who is foreign policy chief for the European Union, said:
[The recommendations] are based on firm, strict assessment of progress made.
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This decision to recommend opening negotiations is an encouragement to these countries to continue on the path of reforms.
Together with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the six nations in the Western Balkans are encircled by the EU but not part of it. Expanding the bloc to include them will help the EU counter the influence of an increasingly expansionist Russia and undermine leverage held by China and Turkey in the region.
Turkey has had its route to EU membership, which it began in 2005, suspended after the unsuccessful coup d’etat against President Erdoğan. The EU did not look kindly on Erdoğan’s subsequent crackdown on officials, opposing politicians, members of the judiciary and journalists, nor his increasingly antagonistic rhetoric.
Today is the first time Albania has been recommended for EU membership, but Macedonia was suggested by the European Commission back in 2005. This was vetoed by Greece, which disputes the name of the former Yugoslavian region, claiming it is too ambiguous with the Greek region of Macedonia and the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon.
For the suggestions to be upheld, the states will have to prove that they are continuing to work towards EU ideals, including the upholding the rule of law, clamping down on organised crime, as well as establishing free and fair courts and media.