Albania’s prime minister on Tuesday complained about the delay in the launch of European Union membership negotiations with his country, saying Bulgaria’s veto is holding the process hostage.
Edi Rama spoke at a news conference with European commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is on a regional tour ahead of the October 6 summit of the European Council on Western Balkans.
Rama called Albania’s situation as “absurd,” noting that Bulgaria is blocking the start of talks with North Macedonia and as a result is also holding up Albania.
The western Balkan states – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – are at different stages on the EU membership path. Their progress in integration has been delayed recently due to the bloc’s stalled interest in enlargement and the years of diplomatic turmoil the EU faced as Britain left the bloc.
Albania and North Macedonia have both fulfilled the criteria for beginning membership negotiations, but EU member Bulgaria opposes North Macedonia’s membership, citing a bilateral dispute over history and national identity. As the two countries’ bids are linked, the veto has also prevented Albania from moving forward.
Von der Leyen pledged to make efforts to persuade EU member countries to hold inter-governmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia this year.
“We’ve asked a lot of you and you have delivered. We will do everything to overcome the hurdles we have at the moment that should not hinder the enlargement process,” she said.
“I really want to bring this process forward so that we can start before the end of the year.”
Von der Leyen said the bloc is focused on mobilizing 9 billion euros in projects and potentially raising investment of up to 20 billion euros in 2021-2027 for the region and its population of 18 million. This year it has secured half a billion euros for projects in the Western Balkans, and it is looking to find another 600 million euros.
Von der Leyen goes to North Macedonia later Tuesday and then continues to the other Western Balkan countries later in the week.