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    EU stumbles over North Macedonia and Albania membership talks

    Prime Minister Zoltan Zaev, North Macedonia (to the left) and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahne, Credit: EU, 2019

    EU heads of state and government failed to reach an agreement on Thursday concerning the opening of negotiations with a view to Northern Macedonia and Albania joining the Union.

    The failure came after 6 hours of extended discussions at their Brussels summit, the first day of which wrapped up after midnight.

    France, along with several other countries, is before all else demanding the membership process be revised. The European Commission had however recently recognised that both countries were ready to begin the lengthy course to membership.

    While the majority of member states also appears to agree with the Commission,  France contests this assessment.

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    As early as Tuesday, it was the only member state to turn down a compromise involving the immediate commencement of discussions on opening negotiations with Northern Macedonia and to defer the decision on Albania until March 2020, according to one diplomat.

    The Netherlands also appears reluctant, along with Denmark.

    On the other hand, many nations are keen not to discourage deserving countries, which could destabilise them and cause them to look elsewhere out of spite. They are therefore calling for the prospect of membership to be opened up to them.

    The debate on enlargement was not resumed on Friday, as desired by the Finnish prime minister Antti Rinne, whose country currently presides over the Council,

    At the concluding press conference on Friday afternoon, outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk said that it was a mistake not to decide to start negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia but he was convinced that they one day will join the EU.  “They were ready, we were not,” he said.

    According to the conclusions from the summit, the European Council will revert to the issue of enlargement before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in May 2020.

    The Brussels Times