FMs of Slovenia, Austria, Czechia point to role of EU enlargement to W Balkans

Tirana – The foreign ministers of Slovenia, Austria and the Czech Republic, Anže Logar, Alexander Schallenberg and Jakub Kulhanek, stressed the role of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans as they met senior Albanian officials in Tirana on Sunday, a day after visiting neighbouring North Macedonia.

The ministers met Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka, Prime Minister Edi Rama and President Ilir Meta, who assured them Albania was ready to start EU accession negotiations.

Logar assured them that “Slovenia will make efforts for the Western Balkans to be high on the EU agenda, especially during Slovenia’s EU presidency,” says a tweet posted by the Slovenian Foreign Ministry.

Logar also said, as quoted by Austrian press agency APA, that the enlargement process should not be constantly blocked over bilateral issues an EU aspirant might have.

All candidate countries must meet membership criteria and should be assessed as eligible for membership only the basis of that, Logar said according to APA.

“If the criteria are met, the next step follows. Anything else would be dangerous,” he added Logar.

The Slovenian ministry meanwhile also tweeted that “Albania has met all conditions to join the EU. We agreed that the future of the Western Balkans in inside the EU.”

A press release from the ministry added the Slovenian, Austrian and Czech ministers agreed Albania had made the most progress in judiciary, and in the fight against organised crime and corruption.

Austrian Minister Schallenberg said that due to “political, economic and cultural reasons”, the enlargement to the Western Balkan is in the strategic interest of all EU members. “Only then will be overcome the historical post-WWII division of Europe,” he was quoted by Austrian press agency APA as saying.

He also expressed hope for accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia to open in June, during Portugal’s EU presidency.

Schallenberg said both countries had made “the homework” in recently years and “achieved extraordinary things”, so there was no reason for delay.

Czech Minister Kulhanek said opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia would definitely be an encouragement for the entire region.

Albanian Foreign Minister Xhacka believes there are no more reasons “to further delay the start of accession talks”.

She said all EU countries should see strategic interest in enlargement to the Western Balkans for security reasons, because “whatever happens here has also an impact on EU countries”.

At their visit to Skopje on Saturday, the Slovenian, Austrian and Czech ministers expressed support for North Macedonia’s EU path as they met their counterpart Bujar Osmani, who called for EU accession talks to start as soon as possible.

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