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EU, Macedonia Launch New Dialogue

March 16, 2012

Strengthening the rule of law and freedom of speech were first issues on the table as Brussels and Macedonia on Thursday started the first round of “high-level” dialogue.

By Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 16.03.2012

 

Fuele [left] and Gruevski [right] | Photo by: vlada.mk

The dialogue, launched with a meeting in Skopje between European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele and Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, is intended to boost the reform process in the country and complement – but not replace – future EU accession negotiations.

“Together we want to make it sure that real, tangible and visible progress can be achieved on the path towards European integration,” Fuele told the media.

After the talks, Fuele welcomed the government’s announced plan to de-criminalize libel, saying it would help efforts to improve media freedom.

Apart of freedom of speech and rule of law issues, Brussels identified three more key areas for Macedonia to address.

These are reform of the public administration, electoral reform and strengthening the market economy.

Both sides agreed on an action plan involving setting up work groups and expert meetings tackling all five key areas.

Gruevski described the talks as a “useful tool” to boost reforms, adding that his government remained strongly committed to this goal.

The talks come after EU officials have expressed worries that Macedonia is backsliding on reform in the face of Greece’s continued blockade of the country’s EU membership talks.

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 has yet to offer an actual start date for the talks owing to a Greek blockade connected 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.

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

On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Macedonia’s progress in 2011, urging once again the Council of the European Union to set a date for the start of membership talks with Macedonia “as soon as possible”.

The resolution greeted the launch of the high-level dialogue as a “step forward in the country’s EU integration process”.

Fuele said that he will revisit Macedonia in May and September to check up on the progress made so far.

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From → EU, FYROM, Negotiations

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