25th Sep 2018

Macedonia keen to start EU talks by 2006

  • Macedonia wants to be the next Balkan country to join the EU (Photo: European Commission)

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia wants to become the next Balkan state to start membership negotiations to join the EU - eventually joining the bloc in 2010.

It let this ambitious timetable be known on Monday (14 February) as it handed over its response to a European Commission survey on the country.

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Macedonia applied for EU membership last March and the government’s reply to Brussels’ questionnaire is another formal step on the path to opening membership negotiations.

The Commission will now prepare its opinion on the readiness of the country to start entry talks and will probably present its view to EU member states this autumn.

Speaking to journalists after formally handing in the vast document of 14,000 pages, Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski said he hoped member states would agree that his country could launch negotiations in early 2006, so that it could ultimately join the EU four years later.

"There is a unity and cohesion among our citizens and all the political parties, that becoming a candidate country and later achieving full EU membership, is the only path for us to follow", he said.

However, although he praised Macedonia's "steady progress", Commission President José Manuel Barroso refused to comment on any timetable for the next steps by the EU.

"We have a goal, we have a right direction and we’re there to support you, but it’s too early to speculate on the date of accession", Mr Barrosso said.

Long way to go

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia could be the third Balkan country to join the EU after Slovenia – which joined last May – and Croatia, likely to open negotiations this spring.

However, Zagreb still needs to prove that it is co-operating with the Hague Tribunal on war crimes in former Yugoslavia, which is a condition applied to all the former Yugoslav states in a package of pre-accession called the "Copenhagen" criteria.

Macedonia, independent since 1991, was not involved in the war in former Yugoslavia, but co-operates with the Hague on a case regarding the conflict with ethnic Albanian militants in 2001.

Albanians form the largest ethnic minority in the country with 2 million, accounting for about a quarter of the population.

Minority issues, as well as judiciary and economic reforms will be under the spotlight as Macedonia prepares for the opening of EU negotiations.

And, its official name, FYROM, is also expected to cause headaches, given its long-term dispute with Greece.

Athens was the last EU country to recognise the independence of the ex-Yugoslav country, fearing that its name implied territorial ambitions towards the northern Greek region of Macedonia.

Commenting on the issue, Commission President Barroso said that Skopje should seek a bilateral deal with Greece, as it will need a unilateral agreement with all the member states to proceed towards EU membership.

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