European Council President Charles Michel visited North Macedonia on Thursday and said efforts to launch European Union membership talks with the Balkan landlocked country and neighboring Albania had become a “top priority” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bulgaria blocked the start of these accession talks by insisting that North Macedonia formally recognize common aspects of the neighbors’ history and language. The stalemate also stalled Albania’s bid.
“The war in Ukraine opened a new chapter in European history and highlighted the expansion EU”, said Michel at a joint press conference with the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, at the lakeside resort of Ohrid. “The EU is firmly committed to your accession to the EU and to the start of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible. This is the highest priority and we support all efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the open bilateral issue with Bulgaria,” said the EU President.
Worried about regional stability, the European Union has invited the leaders of the Western Balkan countries, including North Macedonia and Albania, to an EU leaders’ meeting on 23 June. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the region last week to try to find a way out of the impasse, which Greece also backed.
EU leaders are expected to consider whether to make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership next week in Brussels. North Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2004 and received a positive assessment from the European Commission a year later.
EU leaders agreed to formal accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia after Skopje settled in 2018 a nearly 30-year-old dispute with neighboring Greece over the name of the country, which resulted in it being renamed North Macedonia.
The countries of the Western Balkans are in various stages of negotiations for EU membership. Serbia and Montenegro have already started negotiations on some chapters of their membership agreements. Kosovo and Bosnia signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement, which is the first step towards membership.