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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The European Union is working hard to convince Bulgaria and North Macedonia to end their dispute and open the way for EU membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania, a senior EU official said Thursday.

Oliver Varhelyi, the EU ’s enlargement commissioner, was visiting Tirana, the Albanian capital, on Thursday after trips to neighboring North Macedonia and Bulgaria. He said Brussels’ delay in launching EU membership negotiations with the governments in Tirana and Skopje was compromising its security and trust.

Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, has blocked those talks from starting, arguing that North Macedonia has failed to honor parts of a 2017 friendship deal between the two neighboring countries.

Bulgaria wants North Macedonia to recognize an ethnic Bulgarian minority in its constitution but disputes that a Macedonian minority exists in Bulgaria.

“EU’s security is getting compromised and that is why we should do that (talks launch) now and our trust is being questioned,” said Varhelyi at a news conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Hastening the process of admitting new members has taken on more urgency for the 27-nation EU following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

EU leaders gave Albania and North Macedonia the green light in 2020 to begin accession talks, although no date was set. Since the two countries’ bids are linked and launching accession talks requires unanimous approval from EU nations, the Bulgarian veto has prevented both from moving forward.

Rama has said Albania may go it alone in its efforts to launch EU membership talks.

But on Thursday Rama said his nation would wait until June before “changing our course and not wait for Bulgaria infinitely.”

The EU membership is seen as an incentive driving democratic, political and economic reforms in the volatile Balkans.

Six Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are at different stages in their quest to join the EU.


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