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The European Union officially began talks on EU membership with North Macedonia and Albania Tuesday, a move that brings the two Balkan nations closer to joining the 27-nation bloc, Politico reported.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the opening of talks and praised the two countries for their judicial reforms, and their moves to fight corruption and protect the freedoms of the media and civil society.

The start of negotiations followed North Macedonia’s recent compromise in a long-running dispute with neighboring Bulgaria – an EU country.

Bulgaria had previously stalled Skopje’s bid to join the bloc over the status of an ethnic Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia. Bulgaria’s move, however, had also halted Albania’s candidacy because the EU is treating both countries as part of a package.

Following Tuesday’s announcement, the Commission will begin its “screening” procedure, Euronews noted.

Even so, a major hurdle remains for North Macedonia: The country will need to amend its constitution to recognize its Bulgarian minority and introduce measures to protect minority rights and banish hate speech.

In North Macedonia, a two-thirds majority in the legislature is required for constitutional amendments. However, opposition politicians have repeatedly said they would not support the measures.

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