Macedonia has undertaken significant reforms this year as part of its EU accession agenda and can expect a positive progress report, says European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.Fule praised the pace of progress in Macedonia after speaking on Monday with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the Vice Prime Minister in charge of European Affairs, Teuta Arifi.
They met at the third round of “high-level” Skopje-Brussels talks on a reform process that is intended to complement future EU accession negotiations.“There is no doubt that there was a lot [done] this year, contributing significantly to the reform process,” Fule said, praising Gruevski’s personal effort.
He said that this year’s European Commission report on the country’s progress towards EU membership would be published on October 10. “I am certain that the report will be positive,” he added.
Previously, the Commission insisted on Macedonia strengthening the rule of law and freedom of speech and reforming the public administration, election legislation and the market economy.
Gruevski said that he expected the EU to reward the country’s efforts by offering a start date for membership talks.
“Our primary goal is to start pre-accession talks with the European Union as soon as possible, this year,” Gruevski said, adding that such a move would “preserve the credibility of the EU enlargement process in the case of Macedonia”.
Speaking about his fragile coalition government, Gruevski said that relations between his own VMRO DPMNE party and its ethnic Albanian partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, were “complex” but that they were trying to overcome their differences “through daily contacts at different levels”.
The DUI has threatened to quit the government if VMRO DPMNE pushes through the adoption of a controversial army law that is now before parliament.
The law offers a range of benefits to military veterans of the 2001 conflict but provides no such privileges for former Albanian insurgents.
Fule said that political parties should focus on the country’s political stability and put aside their ethnic differences.
EU officials have stressed that the Brussels-Skopje dialogue is not intended to bypass Greece’s blockade of the country’s EU membership talks.
The idea is to keep the momentum for reform going until the dispute with Greece is resolved.
Macedonia obtained EU candidate country status back in 2005, and for three years in a row since 2009 the European Commission has recommended a start to accession talks.
But the EU has not offered an actual start date for the talks owing to the Greek blockade, related to the dispute over Macedonia’s name.
Greece insists that Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims to its own northern province, also called Macedonia. Both countries are engaged in long-standing talks in the UN to resolve the issue but these have not led to a breakthrough.