Albanian PM: There will be No EU Membership Talks soon and Bulgaria is to Blame
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has said he does not expect next week's EU summit to pave the way for his country to start EU membership talks, blaming Bulgaria, Politico reported today.
All EU governments agreed as early as March 2020 to give the green light to Albania and North Macedonia to start membership talks. However, negotiations have not yet begun, as Bulgaria is pushing for concessions from North Macedonia in a dispute between the two countries over language, history and identity.
Although the blockade imposed by Sofia at the start of negotiations only applies to North Macedonia, the EU prefers to consider Albania and North Macedonia's membership bids together, so Tirana is effectively blocked as well.
The difficulties of the countries of the Western Balkans are a timely warning of the vicissitudes of the EU accession process for Ukraine, which in the midst of the war with Russia is pushing to become a candidate for EU membership at next week's summit. The EU granted this status to North Macedonia in 2005 and Albania in 2014, but negotiations with both countries have not yet begun.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Bulgaria last week in a bid to break the blockade of Sofia ahead of the upcoming summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
In an interview with Politico, Rama said he was pessimistic.
"I have no expectations. I don't think anything will happen. Albania and North Macedonia will not formally start accession talks," he said in Tirana.
Asked if any of the EU leaders had given a signal that the talks could start soon, Rama replied: "What signals can they give? It's not about them. It's about Bulgaria again. They all agree, everyone supports, everyone think this should happen and that it should have happened already. But their room for maneuver is limited by Bulgaria."
Rama, 57, a former basketball player and artist who has covered the walls of his office with his own colorful works, said he did not expect Bulgarian leaders to change their position as they have made the dispute such a big issue that it is very difficult to make concessions.
"This is a spiral. They have entered a spiral. And it is very, very difficult to get out of this spiral," said Rama, who will attend a meeting of Western Balkan and EU leaders in Brussels ahead of the summit.
Bulgarian officials are defending their position, insisting that they simply want North Macedonia to honor its earlier commitments and seek to protect the rights of Bulgarians in the country, Politico writes.
For its part, North Macedonia says it is making good faith efforts at Sofia's request and stresses that a bilateral dispute should not hamper the start of negotiations between the EU and a future member.
Rama confirmed that if there is no progress this month, he will ask for Albania's membership bid to be considered separately from that of North Macedonia, a move the EU has so far been reluctant to take.
Officials say regional stability would be better if the two neighbors move forward together.
"If nothing happens in June, we will want to be separated from this couple who is lost in translation," Rama said.
"I am convinced that this is what we need to do, and then whether (EU leaders) will agree or not, we will see," he added.
In an interview with Politico, Rama backed French President Emmanuel Macron's idea of a European political community, an organization that will be open to both members and non-members.
Macron formulated his plan in part in response to the war in Ukraine, offering the community as a way to integrate Kyiv more quickly into European political structures than the long process of joining the EU.
The war in Russia also highlighted divisions in the Western Balkans. Some countries, such as Albania, have joined the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia, while others, such as Serbia, have not.
Rama expressed understanding for Serbia's position.
“You have to understand that Serbia is in a very different position than others because of its history, it has infected its special ties with Russia”, he said. He said Serbia should impose sanctions over time, but warned that there should be no pressure on Belgrade, which is highly energy-dependent on Moscow.
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