The EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans has always been a cornerstone theme for ALDA since its foundation in 1999. Established as an initiative of the Council of Europe just like the Local Democracy Agencies it has coordinated and supported ever since, ALDA considers the EU’s political decision of opening the negotiating talks for Albania and North Macedonia only six months after the veto an undeniably positive result.
On March 21st and 22nd, 2020, in fact, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Albania. The decision was made in light of the progress achieved in reforms by both countries, which now fulfil the conditions set unanimously by the Council in June 2018.
During the discussions of the Council on the enlargement in June 2019, the representatives of France, the Netherlands and Denmark had initially decided to veto the opening of the negotiation for both countries, claiming that the access methodology should be revised and include a stronger focus on credibility as well as a clause of reversibility.
An informal document “non-paper” was then presented by the French President Macron in November 2019 to revise the EU accession process. It resulted with a Revised Enlargement Methodology presented by the Commission on February 5th, 2020. Both North Macedonia and Albania will now formalise their accession following the new methodology, while Serbia and Montenegro will be offered the possibility to opt in.
“This is a great motivation for these countries working hard to join the EU” - stated Ivana Petrovska, ALDA director of the Skopje office & SEE Regional Programmes Coordinator. “We are looking forward to the Intergovernmental Conference to confirm this political will. Most importantly, the message of the EU commissioner Olivér Várhelyi was clear: the future of the Western Balkans is in the EU.”
ALDA and the Balkan Network for Local Democracy are dedicated to supporting the European integration processes, with all projects in the Western Balkans contributing to the capacity building and networking on topics that are important for the reforms and the EU agenda. "Our mission is to support local authorities and civil society as important actors in the EU accession processes", continues Mrs Petrovska. "All Western Balkan countries are in different stages of this process and regional cooperation is indispensable to reach the same goal, becoming a member of the EU".
The decision still has to be endorsed by the European Council members and a start date or a time frame are yet to be announced. However, the Council’s declaration represents a pivotal turning point in the European Enlargement process, a beacon of hope for an inclusive future in these times of social distancing and closure of borders. The decision to open the talks despite the coronavirus crisis and the uncertainty over Great Britain’s departure from the bloc shows how eager Bruxelles is to bring the Western Balkans countries into the EU.
As commented by LDA Albania Delegate Jerola Ziaj, "We are beyond happy to receive the good news of the opening of membership negotiations for Albania, especially amidst the tumult we are experiencing at the moment. This shows the progress that is being made towards establishing European values and finalizing integration within the European family".