European Union member-states have agreed to opening membership talks with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in a year if reform efforts in the two nations continue to progress.
Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva of Bulgaria, the country currently holding the EU presidency, hailed the decision in Luxembourg on Tuesday as “an important day” for the two nations and “for the Western Balkans as a whole.”
Many of the EU’s member states supported opening up the accession talks immediately. Despite an especially passionate address by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, however, France and the Netherlands opposed the step, saying they first wanted to see reform efforts sustained.
“I explained the geostrategic and geopolitical reasons why the situation demands that we help the two counties in this region and not put it off,” Kotzias said. “I explained that the situation demands stability and security, and not more problems.”
Despite the delay, the news was welcomed in Skopje, where Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hopes to get opposition backing for the agreement with Greece settling the decades-old dispute over the Balkan country’s name.
“We never said it would be easy, never said it would be promptly, but we are coming home with a date! June is just a year away, and we are motivated to get prepared for the opening of the negotiations,” FYROM’s deputy prime minister for the EU, Bujar Osmani, said in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
FYROM also hopes to get the nod from NATO at a summit next month, though the path to membership in the alliance is expected to be smoother, as it already has the support of Washington and the alliance’s chief.
“I welcome the agreement between Athens and Skopje on the name issue. And I expect and I hope that the NATO leaders at the summit will decide to start accession talks… and this will once again reconfirm that NATO’s door is open,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Luxembourg on Monday. [AP/Kathimerini]