Spain’s PM offers support for North Macedonia’s EU candidacy

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez talks to the media during a news conference with North Macedonia's Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, in the government building in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Sunday, July 31, 2022. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is on a one-day official visit to North Macedonia as a part of his Western Balkans tour. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has offered North Macedonia his country’s full support for integration into the 27-nation European Union.

Sanchez held talks Sunday with North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski in the capital of Skopje, ahead of the last stop on his Western Balkan tour, visiting Albania on Monday. He has also visited Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

The Balkan nations are all in different stages of the EU accession process. EU officials have recently sought to encourage governments in the region to move on with reforms amid concerns over Russia’s efforts to boost its influence in the Balkans.

Sanchez said the war in Ukraine has prompted the EU to rethink its enlargement policies and open its doors to countries in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.

“We are more united now than ever before. You can count on me on your European perspective,” Sanchez said at a joint press conference with Kovachevski.

The EU started membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia two weeks ago, a long-delayed step in the Balkan nations’ paths toward EU membership that gained momentum amid the war in Ukraine.

The decision came after North Macedonia’s parliament approved an agreement overcoming Bulgaria’s objections and cleared the way for the negotiations to start. Bulgaria had held up progress on North Macedonia’s accession talks, accusing that government of disrespecting shared cultural, linguistic and historic ties.

Any expansion beyond the 27 current EU members is likely to still be years off. Despite the delay, the Western Balkan nations have maintained their ambition to become part of the world’s most important trading bloc.

For North Macedonia, the past years have been challenging. Disputes with EU members Greece and then Bulgaria prevented the country’s bid from moving forward because any move by the EU to add new members requires unanimous agreement.