Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Britain's minister for Europe backs Macedonia's EU bid

Britain's minister for Europe expressed support Wednesday for Macedonia's bid to join the European Union, despite an admission by the country's government that reforms had slowed.

"We want to see Macedonia in the European Union, and it is clear that the sooner the pace of reform is completed, the sooner Macedonia can join the EU," Geoff Hoon said after the talks with Macedonia's new prime minister, Nikola Gruevski.

Hoon is on a three-day Balkan trip, with stops in Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro.

Macedonia applied for EU membership in March 2004 and was accepted as a candidate last year, after the European Commission praised institutional reforms following an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001.

The tiny Balkan country hopes to be invited to start entry talks next year and to fulfill membership conditions by 2012.

Gruevski acknowledged reforms had stalled.

"There was a slowing down with the reform process in the last 12 months," Gruevski said, but added that the country expected to continue on track.

In August, Gruevski was sworn in, after his conservative coalition won general elections in July.

Also Wednesday, the head of EU mission in Macedonia urged the government and political parties to show greater unity regarding reforms.

"I appeal to all political parties to unite in achieving political consensus for continuation of the reforms. Also I appeal the government to run an extra mile for the reform process," Erwan Fouere said the after EU Commission issued its latest report on enlargement.

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