Macedonia is making progress on its way toward its European future. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Skopje this week and praised the reforms and the prospect of settling its naming dispute with Greece. The country is one of the six potential Western Balkan nations trying to join the bloc but the EU remains cautious about the membership talks in a region marred by ethnic wars and organized crime. However, it is at the same time keen to tame Russian influence in the area.
Chancellor Merkel embraced Macedonia’s radical judicial reforms and steps towards improving transparency. “It is also necessary because it is part of the conditions for moving ahead with talks on EU membership,” she said. Likewise, Ms. Merkel praised the efforts to settle the naming issue that has been thwarting Macedonia’s ambitions to join NATO and the EU as the two countries agreed to step up talks this year to try to resolve the issue. Greece has been objecting Macedonia’s membership plans arguing that Macedonia could try to claim Greece’s own northern territory of the same name.
“I am very pleased and relieved that there is movement in the talks,” Chancellor Merkel said. “In the last 10 years, the solution has not been as close as now and it would be wonderful if the remaining difficulties can be bridged.” Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev added that for his country there was no alternative to NATO and EU membership. “There is no alternative for the whole region.” The Republic of Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn has recently confirmed that Albania would also be recommended to start accession talks. “The EU Commission will soon recommend, most likely by the summer, that member states begin accession negotiations with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” he confirmed. “We believe that both countries have made important reforms in the past, and are thus qualified for this step.”