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EU plans intensive talks on future enlargement procedure

January 24, 2020 GMT
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European Council President Charles Michel arrives to a meeting with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, at the presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. European Council President Charles Michel is expected to discuss with the country's senior officials the new EU negotiation methodology and the course of the reform process in North Macedonia. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
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European Council President Charles Michel arrives to a meeting with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, at the presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. European Council President Charles Michel is expected to discuss with the country's senior officials the new EU negotiation methodology and the course of the reform process in North Macedonia. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The President of the European Council said on Friday the bloc will be holding intensive discussions in coming weeks on how future enlargement should be managed.

Charles Michel, who was in the Albanian capital, Tirana, to meet with Prime Minister Edi Rama, said all member countries “are unanimous on one point — that the Western Balkans’ future should be toward Europe.”

The hopes of Albania and its neighbor North Macedonia to launch EU membership talks last year were blocked by French President Emmanuel Macron in October when he asked for a reform of the process for admitting countries to the 28-nation bloc, which caused deep disappointment in both Balkan countries.

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Speaking at a joint press conference with North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski later Friday in the capital, Skopje, Michel said Brussels is preparing a new methodology which will be open to discussion in the next few weeks.

“I’m aware of all the efforts and reforms that this country has made … Its destiny is in Europe,” Michel said, adding that the EU needs to prepare a strategy for investment and economic growth for all the Western Balkans.

The bloc’s expansion over the years has complicated decision-making in the world’s biggest trade bloc, and a kind of enlargement fatigue set in after 10 countries joined in 2004.

EU membership, however, has been a powerful driving force for democratic, political and economic reform in the Balkans.