Bujar Osmani, the Deputy Prime Minister charged with European integration, denied the allegations that he has made a clandestine agreement with former Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati to drag Macedonia’s reforms and EU accession in order to avoid decoupling from Albania.

Albanian politicians such as Bushati but also Prime Minister Edi Rama reacted angrily at the prospect of decoupling the two countries and opening accession talks with Macedonia but not with Albania. The few Macedonian politicians from the ruling parties who publicly supported this option, such as President Stevo Pendarovski, quickly retreated after Rama reminded him of his reliance on Albanian votes.

Osmani comes from the ethnic Albanian DUI party and it was frequently questioned whether he would push for decoupling of Macedonia from Albania. VMRO-DPMNE deputy leader Aleksandar Nikoloski said that Osmani discussed this issue with Bushati and decided that the two countries should be evaluated together, and Macedonia should tap the brakes if it is seen that it is going too far ahead of Albania, which is experiencing a deep political crisis.

Bujar Osmani and Ditmir Bushati have agreed to keep Macedonia and Albania in a group. This is the worst mistake we could make, in my opinion. It made sense that, once the name issue is resolved, Macedonia joins the group with Serbia and Montenegro. Albania found this very damaging, because it would be left with not fully defined countries such as Kosovo and Bosnia, Kosovo is not even an EU member. Here the Macedonian diplomacy made its worst mistake, because it was clear that Albania can’t keep up with the reforms. Osmani prepared his so-called 3-6-9 plan, and implemented just 41 percent of it, in order to slow Macedonia down, Nikoloski said.

In response, Osmani insisted that Macedonia must maintain the closest possible ties with Albania.

There will be no stable Balkans without full integration in the EU and NATO and there is no stable country in the world tha tdoesn’t maintain close ties with its neighbors. We can’t affect the European integration of Albania, and they can’t impede our progress. The only thing we can do is help each other and remain good friends along the way, Osmani said.

During his press conference following the failed meeting of European foreign ministers, Commissioner Johannes Hahn implied that the two countries will be judged together at the next meeting in October. Albania faces an opposition walk out, frequent, violent protests, and the President canceled its municipal elections planned for June 30th while the Prime Minister, who is facing a wiretapping scandal tying him to drug lords, insists that the elections will take place.

Ahead of the meeting of European foreign ministers, Bushati also condemned Pendarovski for his brief call to “decouple” the two countries.

Both Albania and Macedonia have done the homework according to the European Commission. Therefore decoupling them would be a strategic mistake for the EU, Pendarovski. The need to launch the accession process for both countries corresponds to the demands of their societies, their history and the region, Bushati told Pendarovski.