Candidates for EU membership must “convince” members of their readiness, European Commissioner for Enlargement told Euronews

EU membership candidates Albania and North Macedonia have received the green light from all 27 member states to start accession negotiations.

Following Monday’s announcement, the leaders of both countries were invited to Brussels on Tuesday to discuss what Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called “the next steps towards the EU.”

“Thanks to this, we can move on to the next stage of the two-country accession process,” Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi told Euronews. “[This means that] now we can start accession negotiations as we speak.”

In addition to North Macedonia and Albania, four other countries in the Western Balkans are at various stages of the accession process. Serbia and Montenegro started accession negotiations and in the meantime closed several thematic chapters out of 35 in total.

Bosnia and Kosovo are considered potential candidate countries that have signed their Stabilization and Association Agreements, but negotiations have stalled for both sides since then.

Ukraine and Moldova received candidate status at the last session of the Council of Europe in Brussels on 23 June.

In addition, Turkey is also a candidate, having applied to join the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the EU, in 1987, but its chances of becoming a full member are considered almost nil.

“Now I feel that there is much more openness to accept new EU members, but of course these new members will have to convince the current members that they are ready not only to comply, but to fulfill all the requirements,” Varheily said.

“If Europe is to live in security, prosperity and stability, it needs its neighbors, the Western Balkans, to be fully integrated. This war in Europe, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine proved the value of this,” he added.

The historic development comes after North Macedonia voted to accept the so-called French proposal as a means of overcoming a veto from neighboring Bulgaria, which has blocked entry talks from 2020.

Sofia claims that Macedonian is a dialect of Bulgarian and that the two countries share a common history. North Macedonia claims that its language and history are different from those of its neighbour.

Prior to the Bulgarian veto, North Macedonia was in the Greek bloc, which lasted over a decade and ended with the signing of the Prespa Agreement in 2019.