EU (finally) opens accession talks North Macedonia and Albania 

22 July 2022

After years of political back-and-forth, on Tuesday, EU Member States finally agreed to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. After Bulgaria dropped its veto over North Macedonia’s accession, the Council of the EU opened respective Intergovernmental Conferences on the Accession with both countries. 

While Albania has been in the EU’s unofficial waiting room since 2014, the Republic of North Macedonia has been waiting to progress on its path towards accession since 2005. Despite the political decision by EU leaders in March 2020, it took until this week for all EU countries to end their vetoes. 

Speaking of the opening of the talks, European Council President Charles Michel said that “I realise that the road to reach this point has been long and challenging,” particularly referencing the “particularly intense” debates and “important reforms” undertaken by successive North Macedonian Governments.

The sentiment was echoed by Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, whose country currently holds the Council’s rotating 6-month presidency, who said that “we have taken another important step towards bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU.” 

As Albania is expected to start its accession negotiations immediately, North Macedonia will first need to change its constitution by including Bulgaria among a list of nation-building nations listed, as per the French compromise proposal which unlocked Bulgaria’s veto. 

After the opening of the Intergovernmental Conferences on Accession, the next stage for the countries will be a comprehensive and in-depth screening process of the countries’ legislation to assess their alignment with the acquis communautaire, as the EU’s bulk of legislation is called. 

Covering every aspect of EU legislation, the acquis is divided into 35 negotiating chapters within six clusters. While different chapters can be negotiated in parallel, they must begin and end with the ‘fundamentals’ to ensure complete alignment with the EU’s fundamental rules on the rule of law and fundamental rights. Only once all EU Member States agree on full alignment, can a chapter be closed. 

Once negotiations all chapters have been finalised, the Commission recommends candidate countries for full membership and the country is invited to sign an Accession Treaty, setting out the technical details for the accession to be finalised. This Treaty then needs to be ratified by all 27 Member States via their own processes and the European Parliament.