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EU Launches New Dialogue with Macedonia

March 13, 2012

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 12.03.2012.

Brussels and Macedonia on Thursday start the first round of “high-level” talks that are intended to boost the reform process and complement – not replace – future accession negotiations.

Stefan Fuele | Photo by: EC

The Brussels-Skopje dialogue is not intended at bypassing Greece’s continued blockade of the country’s EU membership talks but at keeping alive the momentum for reform until the problem with Greece is solved, officials say.

The first talks start this Thursday in Skopje between teams led by the EU’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, and Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski.

The first topics for discussion will be strengthening the rule of law and freedom of speech.

“We aim to move the country closer to the European Union and keep the EU agenda as the driving force of transformation,” Fuele said last week following a March 6 meeting in Brussels with Macedonia’s Vice-Prime Minister in charge of European Affairs, Teuta Arifi.

Brussels would also like to see improvements in the public administration, election legislation and in the market economy.

“The dialogue will not replace [formal] accession talks,” Arifi said. “However, it gives us chance to show that we are determined to implement reforms.”

Macedonia gained 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 is not offering an actual start date for the talks owing to a Greek blockade 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.

The dialogue “should give us leverage to engage them [Macedonian officials] at a time when we cannot proceed officially with the screening and negotiations,” one European Commission official told Balkan Insight.

A former Vice-Prime Minister in charge of EU affairs, Ivica Bocevski, voiced caution.

“We are still not clear how this mechanism will function. We should wait for the dialogue to start and then compare it with the experiences of other countries that have since joined the EU,” Bocevski said.

According to announcements, meetings will be held at least twice a year to assess the country’s progress and set new goals.

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