The European Union should kick off accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania to finally fulfill its pledge to integrate the Western Balkans, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Saturday on the second day of a tour to the region.
Speaking in Skopje, Scholz said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made it important for Europe to stand together and he praised North Macedonia’s support of sanctions on the Kremlin.
“It’s very important to bring a new dynamic into this process,” Scholz said in a news conference with North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski.
“I will advocate that the next steps happen.”
Supporters of the EU accession of Albania and the countries that emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia and the ethnic wars of the 1990s say it will ease regional tensions, counter growing Russian and Chinese influence and raise living standards.
Four — Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania — already have candidate status although the latter two have not started accession talks. The overall process has stalled in recent years amid doubts about the wisdom of further EU enlargement.
Kovacevski underscored the “many difficult reforms” North Macedonia had undertaken in order to join the 27-member bloc, including changing its name to comply with Greek objections.
The current main obstacle is a dispute with Bulgaria over history and language.
Scholz, who has fashioned himself as a mediator during his Western Balkans trip, is set to travel onwards to Sofia on Saturday where he will hold talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.
The chancellor has made the Western Balkans’ EU accession, in order to ease growing regional tensions and counter Russian and Chinese influence, a foreign policy priority.
On Friday, he visited Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, where he urged the leaders to reach an agreement normalizing relations.