BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders have agreed to open membership talks with Macedonia and Albania by the end of 2019, if both Balkan aspirants show enough progress in judicial and anti-corruption reforms.
In a summit statement on Friday, EU leaders said they endorsed an agreement on Tuesday among the bloc’s Europe ministers to review Albania and Macedonia’s progress in June 2019 and open talks at a conference by the end of next year.
While there was no debate on the issue by leaders at their two-day summit in Brussels, the statement serves to cement a compromise among EU governments to keep alive the EU membership hopes of the Western Balkan countries but seek further reforms before talks can formally start.
France and the Netherlands demanded more such progress, despite support from 25 other EU countries and the European Commission to give the green light for membership talks with Tirana and Skopje.
Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia all hope to join the European Union and are considered future members by many in the bloc.
While membership talks with Serbia and Montenegro are under way, Albania, which is already a member of NATO, and Macedonia, which has reached an agreement to resolve a dispute over its name with Greece, had won the support of the European Commission, which recommended that membership talks be opened.
Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek