HELSINKI (DPA) - The European Union should agree to launch membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, several of the bloc's foreign ministers argued on Friday (Aug 30), despite concerns about lagging progress in fighting corruption and organised crime.
"I think the EU must have an interest in this region," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Helsinki, on the sidelines of talks with his EU counterparts attended also by their Western Balkan colleagues.
This is important to prevent others "who do not necessarily agree to our values" from expanding their influence in the region, Mr Maas added, in a likely reference to Russia and China.
In July, EU member states delayed a decision on launching accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, despite an assessment by the European Commission that both countries had met the requirements and that the bloc's credibility was at stake.
At the time, Germany was not ready to give the green light, while other countries - notably France and the Netherlands - have long expressed reservations about the move. The issue was pushed back until October.
The concerns centre on Albania in particular, amid general consensus that North Macedonia should be rewarded for making huge strides by settling a name dispute last year with neighbouring Greece.
But Mr Maas argued on Friday that he saw "no need" to consider the two countries' accession bids separately, as has been suggested.
Following Friday's talks, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said member states showed "an even stronger support and determination and awareness" on the need to be consistent about the next steps of the enlargement process.