Albania 'Could Begin' EU Membership Talks without North Macedonia

Brussels could potentially press ahead with talks with Albania over membership of the EU even as negotiations with North Macedonia stall, according to Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi.
North Macedonia and Albania's bids for EU membership have always been coupled together, with both nations preparing for negotiations to begin on parallel tracks.
The European Council opened the latest round of accession talks with both countries in June 2020, in a move that was welcomed by all parties.
But with North Macedonia's bid blocked by Bulgaria since last December, Várhelyi suggested that the situation could be amended.
"If we run into difficulties again with North Macedonia, which means that we are unsuccessful [in] convincing Bulgarian and North-Macedonia [of] a mutually agreeable solution, then the question [is] whether we can move forward with Albania only. And we will have to consider that question," he said as quoted by euronews.com on Friday.
Asked if a formal "decoupling" was an option, he replied: “It might be an option, yes.”
Albania and North Macedonia had previously been scheduled to begin talks on EU membership until the process was blocked in 2019 by France and the Netherlands, which have both been hostile to admitting new members from the Western Balkans.
Euronews revealed earlier this month that Brussels was planning a new push for Albania to join the bloc.
North Macedonia and Albania's bids for EU membership have always been coupled together, with both nations preparing for negotiations to begin on parallel tracks.
The European Council opened the latest round of accession talks with both countries in June 2020, in a move that was welcomed by all parties.
Ditmir Bushati, Albania's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, said a schedule could be discussed at an inter-governmental conference in June.
In North Macedonia, Várhelyi's comments were not well received. "The overwhelming majority of EU member states support having IGCs with both Albania and North Macedonia," said Nikola Dimitrov, deputy prime minister for European affairs of North Macedonia.
"The case of North Macedonia is a test of EU’s credibility in the Western Balkans: will the EU keep its promises?”
Opinions within Albania on joining the EU are almost unanimous, with a recent poll by the European Commission finding 97% of Albanians in favour. At the country's recent election, none of the parties opposed EU membership, only criticising their rivals over delays to the process.

Várhelyi may also bolster hopes of an end to stalling membership bids elsewhere in the Western Balkans, with Montenegro and Serbia both keen to advance the process of joining the bloc.