EU ambassadors on Wednesday agreed on a draft text that would see the bloc open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, although it was watered down to remove mention of a date for doing so.
The discussion among ambassadors will continue on Thursday and the draft, which also includes some new conditions for the candidate countries to meet, could undergo further changes.
The launch of accession talks requires unanimity but if it does get backing, it would be a turnaround from October when the EU vetoed the opening of the discussions at the insistence of France, and with the backing of the Netherlands and Denmark.
If the draft is approved, it would be a rare piece of EU business to move forward as the world tackles the coronavirus pandemic (leaders have canceled a meeting of the European Council next week at which they were meant to discuss enlargement).
“In light of the progress achieved on reforms and the fulfilment of the conditions unanimously set by the Council in June 2018, subject to the endorsement by the European Council, [the Council] decides to open accession negotiations with the Republic of Albania” says the text, seen by POLITICO.
Identical language is used for North Macedonia.
However the draft has been watered down compared to a text put on the table by the Croatian presidency of the Council, also seen by POLITICO. The original text said a proposal setting the framework for the negotiations should be submitted by the Commission “without delay and no later than June.” This language has been removed.
Some new conditions have also been added for Albania, in particular on further strengthening its judiciary, “including ensuring the functioning of the Supreme Court and the High Court” to placate the three most skeptical countries, according to two diplomats who took part in the discussion.
Some diplomats are wary of speaking out, because of how divisive the issue has been. A spokesperson of the Croatian presidency, Bruno Lopandic, refused to comment on the document but stressed that it shows that “in the time of crisis the EU is able to make strategic decisions.”
If agreed by EU ambassadors, the text is expected to be discussed next week at a meeting of EU and foreign ministers.