Brussels could press ahead with talks over Albania”s membership of the EU even as negotiations with North Macedonia stall, enlargement commissioner Olivér Várhelyi has told Euronews.
North Macedonia and Albania’s bids to join the bloc have always been coupled together, with both nations preparing for negotiations to begin on parallel tracks.
But with North Macedonia’s bid currently blocked by Bulgaria, Várhelyi suggested that this situation could be amended.
“If we run into difficulties again with North Macedonia, which means that we are unsuccessful [in] convincing Bulgarian and North-Macedonia [of] a mutually agreeable solution, then the question [is] whether we can move forward with Albania only. And we will have to consider that question,” he said.
Asked if a formal “decoupling” was an option, he replied: “It might be an option, yes.”
Albania and North Macedonia had been scheduled to begin talks on EU membership until the process was blocked in 2019 by France and the Netherlands, which have both been hostile to admitting new members from the Western Balkans.
But Euronews revealed earlier this month that Brussels was planning a new push for Albania to join the bloc, with Ditmir Bushati, Albania’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, saying that a schedule could be discussed at an inter-governmental conference in June.
Opinions within Albania on joining the EU are almost unanimous, with a recent poll by the European Commission finding 97% of Albanians in favour. At the country’s recent election, none of the parties opposed EU membership, only criticising their rivals over delays to the process.
Várhelyi may also bolster hopes of an end to stalling membership bids elsewhere in the Western Balkans, with Montenegro and Serbia both keen to advance the process of joining the bloc.