Maja Márta Sarnyai
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
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.
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.
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.
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