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EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy regarding North Macedonia and Albania

Abstract

This paper is intended to report on the topic of the European Union Enlargement and  Neighbourhood policy, focusing on the countries North Macedonia and Albania. Both of them  are located in the Western Balkans, which is significant for several reasons. The same policies  – a special framework of the European Union – apply to them, and through the course of this essay, I emphasize their most important attributes as well as the similar obstacles the two  countries face on the road to EU accession. Firstly, I expand on Albania, then North Macedonia,  and finally, I briefly compare the two and conclude the researched topic.

Keywords: Albania, North Macedonia, Europaean Union, enlergement policy, candidate,  criteria, progress

Introduction

The European Union as a supranational economic union aims to enhance economic, territorial,  and social cohesion, partnership, and solidarity among its member countries. The Enlargement  policy is a significant part of the Union’s aims, values, and goals. More importantly, it applies  to those countries, which are currently waiting to join the EU, the so-called candidate countries.  This means Albania, Montenegro, Moldova, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine. Both North Macedonia and Albania submitted their formal application for membership.  However, the road to joining the EU is a long process from submitting an application to  becoming an official member country, which consists of negotiations, adoption of EU law, and  economic reforms among others. Having said that, I need to emphasize, that a special process  applies to the Western Balkans, in the form of a special framework, which includes stabilization  and association. The countries joining need to transition to an „improved” economy, and  promote regional cooperation . Simplifying, this means meeting the requirements of the  Copenhagen Criteria, the conditions, and principles set by the Union as conditions for joining. This is why it is more difficult to report on the countries mentioned above, and it is no  coincidence, that countries such as Albania and North Macedonia are not EU members yet.

Albania

As mentioned above, Albania (the Republic of Albania) submitted its application in 2009, and  received candidate status in 2014, given that the country met the necessary conditions for  reaching it. Being considered a developing country, this is an expected requirement from the  EU perspective. The Council of the European Union opened accession negotiations with the  country in March 2020. According to a relatively fresh Western Balkans opinion poll, which  was conducted by the Regional Cooperation Council, a considerable proportion of Albanians  support the process and the eventual joining, however, in 2020, opposed to the European  Commission, the EU member states (for example France) did not approve of carrying on with  the process, condemning Albania’s current state – at the time – not adequate. Finally, in July  2022, accession negotiations started.

The main obstacles the country faces on the road to becoming an EU member state are  needing reforms in its judicial system and electoral laws, fighting corruption, and the respect of  human rights for its minorities (especially the Greek), as well as some deficiencies in the area  of freedom of expression. Nevertheless, the country has been considerably successful in certain  areas, such as external relations, foreign security and defense, the internal market, and economic  criteria in general. As stated in the 2022 Albania report the European Union considers  Albania’s position adequate for the country to become a reliable political partner in the  immediate future. This is also related to the current Russian question since Albania has been  actively showing signs of displeasure on recent happenings – partly by voting for its suspension  in the Human Rights Council.

North Macedonia

The aforementioned North Macedonia was the first country in the Western Balkans that signed  the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the Union in 2004 and became a  candidate for membership in late 2005. The European Council began preparing for accession  negotiations in March 2020, and started premised negotiations in July 2022 – simultaneously  with Albania . The reason for the delay in the process was Greece’s pressure to change the name of the country from Macedonia to North Macedonia. Following that, France detained the  process by proposing to change the methodology used, and Bulgaria questioned the country’s  national identity (including language) resulting in North Macedonia making not only legal but  constitutional changes.

The main points the EU examines and criticizes regarding the country are the following:  judicial system, internal market, fight against corruption and organized crime and external  relations among others – noting that some progress has been made by the government and  Parliament, implementing the 2021 recommendations and several reforms. However, in the  field of political criteria – especially strengthening democracy and the rule of law – and  fundamental rights (which remained in line with European standards) – North Macedonia has  achieved a good level of preparation.

Comparison of the two countries and conclusion

Given their similar geographical position, economic and cultural backgrounds and analogous  difficulties, the two countries seem to pace each other on the road to becoming European Union  member states. Their concurrent or separate integration was even a debated question among  member states in the past. The above-mentioned characteristics and difficulties noticeably  align.

Consequently, the Western Balkan countries continue to provide a challenge for the  European Union, which was therefore required to step in a „patronizing” role in the region of  the Western Balkans, reforming and democratizing mentioned countries through the process of  the integration. This is a natural aftermath of the Soviet domination of the 20. century, and  the cultural and political – even economic battles, and their still relevant aspects. But more  importantly, these are also the main aims and values of the European Union, whether that  consists of enhancing economic, territorial cohesion and solidarity or achieving sustainable  development based on economic growth and social progress.

Maja Márta Sarnyai

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