TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The foreign ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia said Sunday there is no reason to delay the launch of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia.
Austria’s Alexander Schallenberg, the Czech Republic’s Jakub Kulhanek and Slovenia’s Anze Logar, whose country takes over the rotating presidency of the bloc in July, came to Tirana following their trip to North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, a day earlier.
“We are the three musketeers of the Western Balkans. You can count on us. All for one, one for all,” said Schallenberg, adding: “Only when the six states of the Western Balkans become full-fledged members of the EU will we have overcome the division of the continent after World War II.”
Albania applied for EU membership in 2009 and North Macedonia in 2004. Last year the European Union gave the green light to both for the launch of full membership negotiations after they have fulfilled the required criteria. A date for the first intergovernmental meeting is expected to be set in June’s meeting of the EU’s Council.
However, Bulgaria has blocked the official start of talks for North Macedonia, asking it to formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots and to stamp out allegedly anti-Bulgarian rhetoric. Skopje says Macedonian identity and language are not open to discussion.
It would be very dangerous for bilateral issues to block the membership process, said Kulhanek, adding that “It is by merit that you fulfil the criteria and this is, I think, what the EU stands for.”
Slovenia’s Logar said his country would have the Western Balkans at the top of the agenda during its presidency because the “EU enlargement process is a two-way street.”
Western Balkan countries are at different stages of EU membership talks. Serbia and Montenegro have already started negotiating some chapters of their membership agreements. Kosovo and Bosnia have signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first step to membership.
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Llazar Semini, The Associated Press