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EU envoy seeks start of North Macedonia membership talks

April 27, 2022 GMT

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The European Union wants to start formal membership talks with North Macedonia by early this summer and renew efforts to address objections from Bulgaria that have held up the process, a top EU official said Wednesday.

Oliver Varhelyi, the EU ’s enlargement commissioner, said during a visit to North Macedonia that the bloc is eager to break the two-year deadlock. Hastening the process of admitting new members has taken on more urgency for the EU following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “North Macedonia is part of Europe! No time to waste to speed up the procedures!” Varhelyi tweeted after a meeting with Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski. Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, argues that North Macedonia has failed to honor parts of a 2017 friendship deal between the neighboring countries.

Bulgaria wants North Macedonia to recognize an ethnic Bulgarian minority in its constitution but disputes that a Macedonian minority exists in Bulgaria.

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North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said his country had shown an “exceptional level of commitment” toward accession. “It’s time for the European Union to lend a hand to the countries of the Western Balkans and to clearly demonstrate that the future of the region is European,” Osmani said. “The region is increasingly tired of waiting, which hurts the credibility of the European Union.”

EU leaders gave North Macedonia and Albania the green light in 2020 to begin accession talks, although no date was set for the start of negotiations. The dispute with Bulgaria has delayed Albania’s bid.

The prospect of EU membership has long been seen as an incentive driving democratic, political and economic reforms in the volatile Balkans.

Six Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are at different stages in their quest to join the EU.