The European Commission recommends the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia in its annual reports of Western Balkan states.

According to both the High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, the two countries are the only ones in the area that meet the EU executive’s criteria to open accession talks.

“The EU’s enlargement policy is an investment in peace, in security, in prosperity and in the stability of Europe,” said Mogherini in a statement following the adoption of the EU executive’s enlargement package. “The Western Balkans are Europe and will be part of the EU’s future, of a stronger, stable and united EU.

EU diplomatic chief Mogherini’s press statement said the EU-28 should not wait any longer, as the risk of disillusion sinks in. “Not rewarding historic achievements and substantial reforms would undermine stability and discourage seriously further reforms and would introduce an element of disillusion, especially among the young population that is so supportive of the European Union prospect,” warned Mogherini

The EU-28 last year agreed to assess kicking off accession talks for both countries but only in June this year, and only under certain conditions, particularly improvements in the fight against crime and corruption.

Hahn noted that Albania is pursuing profound reforms, in particular, a major transformation of its justice system. Albania and North Macedonia had taken major steps, and the European Council, namely the EU member states must respond.

“Both countries have delivered on reforms in areas set by the council unanimously in June 2018. On that basis the commission recommends the council opens accession negotiations now with both Albania and North Macedonia,” he told the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels, some hours before the recommendation was published. “To remain credible the EU must stick to its commitments and respond clearly and positively when countries fulfil theirs.”

Ultimately the decision on the timing of any future enlargement will be made by the member states, not the commission officials noted above, and a number of countries remain unconvinced about the need to open accession negotiations at the current time, with many member states’ attention focused on Brexit.