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The recommendation to open membership talks with the Balkan nations comes amid waning enthusiasm for the bloc. The countries will be required to carry out sweeping reforms to secure their entry.
On Tuesday, the European Commission recommended that the EU launch membership talks with Albania and Macedonia.
The recommendation is part of a push to revive enthusiasm for the bloc, which is facing the departure of Britain next year.
What the European Commission announced
'Encouragement' to continue on reforms path
EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the recommendation "is an encouragement to these countries to continue on the path of reforms."
Hailing the announcement, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the commission's backing shows that the tiny West Balkan country has "at last come out of a crossroad between the past and the future."
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev welcomed the decision and promised to press ahead with reforms in the justice system, public administration and anti-corruption arena to bolster his country's chances of joining the EU.
Russia factor: The EU's expansion efforts have seen renewed urgency amid concerns over Russian influence in Eastern Europe. In February, the EU unveiled its new strategy for the region, which aims to give membership to Serbia and Montenegro as early as 2025.
Difficult road ahead: The accession talks can only start after EU member states endorse the European Commission's proposal, and that may prove difficult. Just hours after the announcement, French President Emmanuel Macron told the European Parliament that any expansion of the EU needed to be preceded by reforming the bloc at its current sizEuropean Parliament that any expansion of the EU needed to be preceded by reforming the bloc at its current size.
ap/aw (AP, AFP)