BRUSSELS -- The European Union has postponed a decision on whether to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania until later this year.
The European Council, which groups EU member states, made the announcement on June 18 following a meeting of European and foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
The conclusions agreed at the gathering said that 'in light of the limited time available and the importance of the matter, the council will revert to the issue with a view to reaching a clear and substantive decision as soon as possible and no later than October 2019.'
Last month, the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, recommended that accession talks with the two Balkan states begin as soon as possible, saying the two countries have 'delivered on reforms.'
But the enlargement negotiations commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said after the Luxembourg meeting that 'a minority of member states were not able to support the commission's clear proposal to open accession negotiations with Albania and with North Macedonia already today,' calling the delay 'unfortunate.'
Hahn said that it remained the commission's 'firm belief' that the bloc 'has to reward those who have delivered on all the requirements the council itself had unanimously set to in Luxembourg exactly one year ago.'
Hahn told reporters he was 'extremely confident we'll get a green light in October,' adding, 'Our collective credibility is at stake and our incentives and leverage for tough reforms across the region are equally so to say at stake.'
Amid resistance from some bloc members, including France and the Netherlands, leaders of North Macedonia and Albania say that their countries have delivered on reforms demanded by Brussels that earned the right to start accession negotiations.
North Macedonia's prime minister, Zoran Zaev, has warned that a delay in EU talks could lead to the toppling his government and allow nationalist, anti-EU forces to take power.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has said that trust in the European bloc would be damaged if it did not keep its promises.
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