EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen hailed the “historic moment” at a joint news conference with Albanian Premier Edi Rama and North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski.
The European Union has launched membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia — a long-delayed step towards joining the bloc.
The process was kicked off on Tuesday with the presentation of the negotiating frameworks, which will allow the EU head office to screen how well each nation is prepared to take on all the laws, rules and regulation of the bloc.
"Today, Albania and North Macedonia open accession negotiations with the EU," EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
She told the prime ministers of Albania, Edi Rama, and North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovacevski that "this historic moment is your success. The result of your hard work."
Any expansion beyond the 27 EU member states is likely to be years off and both nations were already considered potential candidates 19 years ago.
Despite the stalling, the Western Balkan nations have persevered in their ambition to become part of the world's most important trade bloc.
The move comes at a crucial time for the EU, which has just reached out to Ukraine to offer it the perspective of membership even though Western Balkan nations were kept in the waiting line for such a long time.
Today, Albania and North Macedonia open accession negotiations with the EU.— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) July 19, 2022
A historic moment for the people of 🇦🇱🇲🇰.
We have supported you all the way, and we will continue to do so to welcome you to the EU. pic.twitter.com/WQardMd4fd
'Better quality of life'
Von der Leyen praised the rule of law and anti-corruption reforms undertaken and resilience demonstrated by the two countries, terming it a “success” of their leaders and people.
The governments of North Macedonia and Albania did not implement the reforms just for EU accession, but because they are “good for your countries and are already delivering a better quality of life for your people,” she said.
North Macedonia became an EU candidate in 2005, while Albania was granted the status in 2014.
The opening of negotiations has been stalled since 2020 because of a dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria over linguistic and historical matters.
Following mediation efforts led by France, Skopje and Sofia signed an agreement on Sunday that paved the way for the start of accession talks.