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23rd Sep 2021

Macedonia unlikely to start EU talks this year

  • The Skopje aqueduct - may not lead to Europe just yet (Photo: Wikipedia)

Macedonia does not seem ready at this stage to open accession talks with the EU before the end of the year, as initially hoped, EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn has said.

"We will give our opinion on 5 November, but for the moment, it seems difficult to me to advise to open [EU] accession negotiations" with Macedonia, Mr Rehn told French news agency AFP on Monday (20 October).

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The European Commission will on 5 November publish its annual reports on progress accomplished by EU hopefuls from the Western Balkans and Turkey.

Skopje has been told to fulfil eight political criteria - or benchmarks - before it is allowed to start EU membership negotiations.

These include better "dialogue between political parties, implementation of the law on police and anti-corruption legislation, reform of the judiciary and public administration, as well as measures in employment policy and for enhancing the business environment."

Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since 2005, and was hoping that it could at last open EU accession negotiations this year.

Mr Rehn had also said in March he hoped to be able to recommend the opening of talks in November.

But on Monday, he told AFP: "For the moment, it seems to me that these eight benchmarks have not been fulfilled."

The country "has still to improve its judicial and administrative reforms, and also to prove that the next elections will be conducted according to all international and European norms," he added.

Separately from lagging behind in implementing necessary reforms, Skopje has been deadlocked in a name fight with Athens for 17 years.

Greece has refused to recognise its neighbour's constitutional name - the Republic of Macedonia - since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 because a northern region in Greece is also called Macedonia and Athens fears allowing Skopje to use the name will open the way to territorial claims. It also believes the appellation is part of its own historical heritage.

Mr Rehn encouraged the two countries to solve this problem without delay and in "a real European spirit."

If France and Germany had behaved after the Second World War the way Greece and Macedonia are now behaving, "there would not be a European Union," he said.

Serbia's SAA

Speaking at a separate event in Brussels on Monday organised by Serb billionaire Miroslav Miskovic's conglomerate Delta Holding and the Serbian chamber of commerce, the commissioner said he hoped Belgrade would soon fulfill "the remaining condition" for concluding a pre-accession deal - the so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) - with the EU.

The SAA with Serbia was signed in April, but The Netherlands has blocked its ratification due to Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic continuing evasion from justice.

Mr Rehn, however, stressed that reforms in terms of corruption and organised crime will also be needed to bring the country closer to the EU.

"Justice, freedom and security, including fight against corruption and organised crime, are therefore EU priorities in Serbia and in all the Western Balkans," Mr Rehn said.

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