The European Commission is hoping to start accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia before the end of this year, its president Ursula von der Leyen said in Tirana on Tuesday, as she began a regional tour ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit on October 6.
“Allow me to make one thing clear, Albania’s future is in the European Union,” von der Leyen told a press conference after a meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana, the first of six stops she will be making over the next few days on Tuesday, Euronews reported.
“I have given my full support so we can move forward with the negotiations of Albania’s and North Macedonia’s accession into the EU, as soon as possible,” she said. “I really want to bring this process forward so that we can start before the end of the year. That is the goal.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant confirmed at a press briefing that the “EU commission president is pushing for the start of intergovernmental conferences for both Albania and North Macedonia before the end of the year.”
In a comment on the ‘Open Balkans’, she said any initiative within the frame of the Berlin Process is welcomed.
"If we look at the economic performance and the deepening of economic relations as well as this common regional market, I think that the Berlin Process is the framework we are using and is pushing the integration process forward," she said.
For the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the process must be open, involving everyone and pushing everyone forward.
‘Open Balkans’ has been rejected by Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Kosovo officials reiterated that stance even during its promotion by Albanian PM Edi Rama on his visit to Pristina on Sunday and Monday.
But Prime Minister Rama pointed out that the 'Open Balkans' is not the second process that competes with the Berlin Process, or even less so in the joint press conference with the senior official of the EC. According to him, the Berlin Process has not progressed like the WB countries wish and this is the reason their leaders, namely Serb President Aleksandar Vucic and Albanian PM Edi Rama, joined by North Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev, decided to push it.
"It is the same process. The only difference is that the Berlin Process is led by our friends and partners, who have a thousand and one other troubles. And they do not wake up in the morning with the question of how the Berlin Process is going, because Germany, France, Europe have many other things, before they think about the Balkans. While we are here and in the morning we ask ourselves how our economy is going, how our trade is going, our tourism and so on,” said Rama.
Rama was determined that the initiative would go ahead because it is a strategic interest and mechanism of the Berlin Process.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is on tour in the Western Balkans between 28 September and 30 September, to visit Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The president started her trip in Tirana on Tuesday morning, where besides the meetings with Prime Minister Edi Rama, and President Ilir Meta, together with the prime minister, she attended the inauguration of the ‘Korb Muça’ School and Europa Kindergarten', which was rebuilt with EU funds under the EU4Schools programme after the devastating 2019 earthquake. On Tuesday afternoon, she will travel to Skopje, where she will meet Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, as well as President Stevo Pendarovski, followed by a visit to a youth cultural centre, together with Prime Minister Zaev. On Wednesday morning (29 September), President von der Leyen will be in Pristina, where she will meet with President Vjosa Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti. She will also visit the Cicërimat Kindergarten, which was built with EU funds, together with the prime minister. The president will then travel to Podgorica, where she will be received by President Milo Đukanović and Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić. During her stay, she will visit the Institute of Public Health which received EU support in the fight against the pandemic, accompanied by the prime minister. Then, the president will arrive in Belgrade, Serbia, where she will meet President Aleksandar Vučić on Wednesday and Prime Minister Ana Brnabić on Thursday. On Thursday morning, together with President Vučić, President von der Leyen will take part in the launch event of a project on railway Corridor X.