S&D Group welcomes the prospect of opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia next year

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EU governments on Tuesday decided to aim for opening accession negotiations with both Albania and North Macedonia in June 2019. S&D Group regrets the lack of ambition behind the decision to delay the opening of the talks until after next year’s European elections. We call on the European Council that will gather later today in Brussels to make it clear that the accession negotiations will not be further delayed.
 
Victor Bostinaru, S&D vice-president responsible for foreign affairs, said:
 
"The EU enlargement process is a two-way road:  important fundamental reforms are needed on the side of the Western Balkans countries in order to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, while the EU has to remain consistent and credible, and ensure rigorous but fair conditionality. The progress made by Albania and North Macedonia is an indisputable one. I remain convinced that the right thing to do today would be opening the accession negotiations for these two countries. Nevertheless, June 2019 remains close and I trust that the two countries will continue the path of democratic and ambitious reforms. There is no doubt today that the future of the Western Balkans remains within a strong and united European Union, and that no other alternative can better serve their citizens’ interest and the Union’s security and prosperity.
 
“It is our duty today to explain to our citizens the benefits of this process, which are many. Our engagement and commitment to the European future of the Western Balkans should remain a priority for the Union and cannot be hindered by short term electoral gains."
 
The European Parliament’s rapporteur on Albania and S&D spokesperson on foreign affairs, Knut Fleckenstein, said:
 
"As the rapporteur for Albania I am convinced that Albania would have deserved opening accession negotiations already this year. However, the opening of negotiation is now within reach and a clear timeline with the next steps has been set. I am confident that the Albanian government and its people will accept the planned opening of negotiations in June 2019 as an encouragement to speed up implementation of further reforms.
 
“Albanian citizens are the first to benefit directly from the justice reform with its vetting process of judges and prosecutors, as well as from continuing investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in the fight against corruption and organised crime. Albania has made steady progress in the key reform priorities over the past years and all those who are following the country closely recognise this. It is crucial that the people feel the benefits in everyday life, e.g. in the education and health sectors, in doing business and in enforcing property rights."
 
Tonino Picula, S&D spokesperson on North Macedonia, added:
 
“After a 10 year delay, I can congratulate Macedonians on the success in opening accession talks next year. It is now finally clear that the negotiations would start in June 2019. North Macedonia and European Commission can start the preparations already today. 
 
“North Macedonia really deserves the opening of the accession talks. In just one year, the government of Prime Minister Zaev has done a very good job in reforms and I am sure they will continue with the same pace. The agreement with Greece on the name issue solved the last standing block in opening the negotiations. S&D Group would again like to commend governments in both countries for that.  Now Macedonian citizens will have their say on the agreement in the referendum. The decision of the Council only confirms to the Macedonians that a government that delivers on its promises is also supported by European Union.”