European Commission progress reports on six Western Balkans countries seeking EU membership say that Albania and North Macedonia remain ready to start accession talks, but criticise the lack of movement towards reform elsewhere in the region, reports Balkan Insight.
The European Commission’s annual progress reports for six Western Balkan countries who hope to become EU members – plus Turkey – were published on Tuesday, assessing their achievements and shortcomings noted during the period between June 2020 and June 2021.
North Macedonia ‘makes progress in key areas’
The report notes that the country continues to fulfill the criteria for starting EU accession talks, but says that for this to happen, bilateral issues between neighbouring North Macedonia and Bulgaria must be resolved.
Sofia blocked the start of accession talks for Skopje in late 2020, citing objections over different readings of history and notions of Macedonian national identity.
While North Macedonia is commended in the new report for making good to moderate progress in nearly all key areas, including the rule of law, freedom of speech and the fight against organised crime, the country is criticised for its slow pace of reform of the judiciary.
The report says that North Macedonia has continued its efforts to strengthen democracy, including activating existing control and balance systems.
Opposition parties reportedly remained actively engaged in parliament and on some occasions supported key EU-related laws, the report notes. However, “parliamentary work has been hampered by political polarisation, exacerbated by COVID-19”, it adds.
On freedom of expression, the report notes that limited progress has been made.
Albania commended for reforms
In its report on Albania’s progress, the European Commission also notes that the country has continued to meet the criteria for start of accession talks. It stresses that Albania has achieved “tangible” and “sustainable” results by continuing its commitment to EU-oriented reforms.
However, the start date for Albania’s accession remains deadlocked due to the Bulgarian blockade of North Macedonia, as most EU countries prefer to see Tirana and Skopje progress towards the EU as a package.
Albania is commended in the report for making progress in the judiciary and the fight against corruption. It remarks that Albania achieved an important turning point when in late 2020 it managed to elect three new judges to the Constitutional Court.
But the report notes that the country needs to do more to improve political dialogue between the ruling parties and the opposition. It also notes shortcomings in freedom of speech, saying that problems with defamation campaigns and the intimidation of journalists has not improved.