EU greenlights membership talks for Albania and N. Macedonia

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AP

A man holds an EU flag during a rally titled "Walking for Justice," organized by the ruling Social Democrats, starting outside the parliament building and ending in front of the complex of national courts, in Skopje, North Macedonia, Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. Thousands supporters of the ruling Social Democrats marched peacefully in the capital Skopje late on Monday in support of a new law on public prosecution and demanded national courts be more vigorous in deciding cases related to corruption allegations of the former conservative government members.(AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

BRUSSELS – European affairs ministers agreed Tuesday to allow Albania and North Macedonia to begin European Union membership talks, paving the way for the bloc’s leaders to sign off on the move that could end years of setbacks and disappointment for the two Balkan nations..

“We reached a political decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia," Croatia's European Affairs minister, Andreja Metelko Zgombic, said after chairing a meeting of the ministers held by video conference.

She described the decision as "good news, historic news, for those two countries" and said EU leaders were likely to rubber stamp it on Thursday.

No date was announced for the start of the membership negotiations, which can take several years.

Albania and North Macedonia were meant to begin talks last year on joining the EU. French President Emmanuel Macron blocked the action and said he would continue to do so until the process for allowing countries into the 27-nation bloc had been reformed.

Macron did so despite warnings that further delays to the countries' membership quests could undermine stability in the volatile Balkans region. North Macedonia’s leader reacted by stepping down and calling a snap parliamentary election. The European Commission later revised the accession process for North Macedonia and Albania to respond to French and Dutch objections.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed the decision to launch membership negotiations as “beautiful news, though delayed not because of us."

Rama pledged they would continue to fulfil the required steps “until we enter and sit in the EU’s living room.”