EU to delay launch of membership talks with Macedonia
The EU will not give the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the green light for starting accession talks next week as the Balkan country had hoped, with the European Commission citing political shortcomings for the delay.
According to an annual commission evaluation report to be published next week, seen by Macedonian newspaper Dnevnik, the parliament and the administration are not functioning well enough, and important reforms are still not completed.
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"The firing of civil servants after the change of the government in 2006 illustrates how much all the levels of the administration are politicised, which impedes its proper functioning. A difference has to exist between the political and the administrative level", reads the commission's draft report, Dnevnik wrote on Tuesday (30 October).
On top of that, due to its internal political disputes, the functioning of the Macedonian parliament has been disturbed and there has not been enough dialogue between the party in power and the opposition for a long time, says the document.
As a result many laws are still blocked, in particular concerning the reform of the judicial system.
Brussels also criticises the fact that because the Macedonian government realised there were delays, it has now hastily speeded up the writing of new laws - harming their quality.
The report also says that problems typical of countries of the Balkan region – such as lagging reforms of the judiciary and corruption problems – have still not been tackled.
According to the commission report, corruption remains "widespread."
Solving the name dispute
Finally, the EU executive calls on the Macedonian and Greek governments to solve the issue of the name of the small Balkan state.
"New efforts are needed, with a constructive approach, so that a common solution for the name is found with Greece, under the auspices of the UN, which will contribute to the regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations", the report says.
Greece has been refusing to recognise the country under its constitutional name – Republic of Macedonia - ever since it declared independence in 1991 following the split of Yugoslavia.
A Greek northern region is also called Macedonia and Athens fears potential territory claims if Skopje is allowed to use it.
Instead, the name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has been used by the international community as a "provisional" term designating the country since 1993 - with Athens and Skopje disagreeing on the long-term use of this term.
No Balkan state in the EU in a near future?
Macedonia was granted the status of an EU candidate country in 2005, but after the negative assessments of this report, it is not expected to actually launch membership talks before 2009.
In addition, most countries from the region are unlikely to become EU members in the near future, according to their assessment reports seen by the Financial Times.
"The enforcement of the rule of law, notably through judicial reform, and the fight against corruption and organised crime are top priorities", the paper writes on Wednesday (31 October).
"Corruption remains widespread and is deeply rooted in society. In all western Balkan countries, measures taken are not commensurate with the magnitude of the problem", according to the report.
Despite improvements noted in economic integration, civil society also remains weak in the region, it says.
Realistically, only Croatia, which opened membership talks in October 2005 and is currently the most advanced Western Balkan country, could join the 27-member EU in the next five years.
Shortcomings are also noted in the Croatian report, however, including the treatment of Serbian minorities and the alignment of national tax legislation with EU norms.