Country Risk

EU's further postponement of accession negotiations with Albania, North Macedonia undermines judiciary, governance reforms, Western Balkans stability

20 June 2019

Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev at the end of the Western Balkan Conference on 29 April 2019 in Berlin, Germany. Source: Mika Schmidt - Pool/Getty Images Editorial #: 1140192138

On 18 June, the Council of the EU postponed its decision, to be taken unanimously, to open EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia until October due to resistance from some member states, including Germany, France and the Netherlands.

  • The decision to postpone accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia is highly likely to decrease EU-backed reform prospects across the Western Balkans. North Macedonia has been an EU candidate county since 2005 and Albania since 2014. In June 2018, the Council decided to delay by a year its decision on accession talks with the two countries despite being recommended by the European Commission to start membership negotiations. In May, the Commission again noted the progress achieved by the two countries in improving their judicial and anti-corruption frameworks and in combatting organised crime, reiterating the need to start accession talks. The countries in the Western Balkans region will most probably interpret the repeated postponement as the EU unwillingness to accept any Western Balkan state in the near future. This would very probably reduce the incentive to implement a sound judiciary, anti-corruption and governance reforms in Albania and North Macedonia, but also in Serbia (in EU accession negotiations since 2014) and Montenegro (in EU accession negotiations since 2012).
  • North Macedonia is likely to suffer from policy volatility and an increased likelihood of early election before the scheduled vote in December 2020 because of the delay to the accession talks. EU accession is a key objective for the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. The administration has accomplished a diplomatic success by resolving a 27-year-long name dispute with neighbouring Greece resulting in changing the country's name from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia. The deal, however, has remained divisive, prompting anti-government protests and strong criticism by the opposition nationalist Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE).

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