The EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn urged the European Union to approve the start of membership talks with Albania and the newly baptised “Northern Macedonia” (New Europe refers to the country as “Macedonia/FYROM” until the Prespes Agreement with Greece comes ito force) this week, stressing the importance of giving a “positive signal” to the whole Western Balkan region.

The EU and its institutions over the last year have finally recuperated and once again found their role in the Balkans. The last enlargement package in the autumn of 2016, under the Slovak Presidency, was not followed up by Council conclusions at the time, making 2015 the last reference point in this respect.

Johannes Hahn made the call on June 25 amid divisions among the 28 EU member states over whether to allow membership talks with Albania and Macedonia/FYROM.

The two Balkan countries hope the bloc’s foreign ministers will agree the go-ahead at a meeting in Luxembourg on June 26, which would clear the way for approval by EU leaders at a summit on June 28-29.

But EU officials were quoted as saying that France and the Netherlands may seek further conditions, such as more reforms to tackle corruption and organised crime in Albania and Macedonia/FYROM.

“I think everybody should be aware — and I hope this is finally the case — how important it is to give a positive signal to the region,” Hahn said at an EU-Montenegro intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg.

He said that Macedonia/FYROM should be “rewarded” for signing an agreement with Greece earlier this month to rename the former Yugoslav republic the “Republic of North Macedonia,” ending a 27-year dispute between Athens and Skopje.

“I think if this is not rewarded in a meaningful way, I think this will have an immediate and huge impact for the stability of the region,” Hahn said.

“We have achieved a lot and if you look at achievements even in the past couple of months in the region … all this is a result of the European perspective,” the EU official also said, adding, “If this is not seen, understood, and responded in an adequate way, I would not understand [it].”

Besides Macedonia/FYROM and Albania, four other Balkan countries remain outside the EU — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Also on June 25, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he expected the Western military alliance to decide at a July 11-12 summit to officially launch membership talks with Macedonia/FYROM, although he has also gone on record as saying the Prespes Agreement needed to be fully ratified before such an invitation would be forthcoming.

The deal with Greece was “an historic agreement which provides an historic opportunity” for Skopje to join NATO, Stoltenberg said.