The European Union's
formal decision on 25 March to start accession talks with North Macedonia and
Albania has been welcomed as "the right decision for the EU and an
excellent opportunity for the Western Balkans".
The chair of the CoR's commission for external relations, Mark Speich, Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs for North Rhine-Westphalia, reiterated the long-standing message of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), about the importance of preparing regions and cities in Albania and North Macedonia for membership.
He said: "I warmly welcome the opening of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The European Committee of the Regions has called for this important decision for years, and both countries have undertaken major reforms. The start of accession talks reflects a commitment to a shared agenda of deeper relations based on European cooperation and values. This is the right decision for the EU and an excellent opportunity for the Western Balkans as a whole to renew its reforms. Giving a sign of hope to the Western Balkans is doubly important in these difficult times, with a global pandemic causing economic uncertainty across Europe."
The CoR has been working with regional and local authorities from both countries for the past decade, addressing political challenges and working with them on administrative issues of particular concern for them, such as waste management.
Jasna Gabrič (SI/Renew Europe), mayor of Trbovlje and co-chair of the Joint Consultative Committee for North Macedonia, said: "This is a positive and overdue decision in difficult times, showing that the EU is keeping its enlargement policy alive despite this unprecedented situation. Indeed, we stand even more firmly in solidarity with the region of the Western Balkans in this moment of crisis."
Nikola Dobroslavić (HR/EPP), Prefect of Dubrovnik-Neretva County and Chair of the CoR's Working Group for the Western Balkans, which has dealt with relations with Albania to date, said: "The people of North Macedonia and Albania already know that it is not easy to join the EU. But, as someone from a country that joined only recently, Croatia, I know the value of being in a club and in developing good cooperative relations with others across Europe. I say: keep up the good work, and you will be rewarded. The reform process should strengthen your democracy, your economies, and your resilience. Work together and invest in local democracy."
The CoR also has political contacts and a working relationship with other candidates and potential candidates for EU membership. Each year, politicians from EU local and regional authorities meet their counterparts from across the Western Balkans and Turkey at the Enlargement Day conference organised by the CoR.
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