Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bulgaria to support Macedonia's drive for NATO, EU entry

Bulgaria's Foreign Minister on Friday voiced firm support for neighboring Macedonia's hopes to join NATO and the European Union.

"I hope that in 2008 Macedonia will be invited to join NATO, which is important not only to us, but also to the whole region," Ivailo Kalfin told reporters after meeting Macedonian counterpart Antonio Milososki.

Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 along with six other eastern European nations, and is set to become an EU member on Jan. 1.

Macedonia, Croatia and Albania are all hoping for early invitations to join NATO, but the alliance has refused to set a date.

Kalfin also said that as an EU member Bulgaria would favor the continuation of the bloc's expansion policy.

"We ourselves feel the expansion fatigue in the union ... but Bulgaria's position is that the enlargement is the most successful European project in the past decade," he said.

After the European Union decided to let Bulgaria and Romania in on Jan. 1, the EU's chief executive, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, called for a halt to further expansion. That leaves only a distant chance of membership for Croatia, which has already begun entry talks, and for EU candidate Macedonia, as well as for other Balkan nations such as Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Albania.

Kalfin and Milososki signed a deal to impose a visa regime on Macedonian citizens' traveling to Bulgaria, as required by Bulgaria's EU entry agreements.

"I am not happy with these visas ... but I hope it is a temporary measure," Milososki told reporters. "But thanks to Bulgaria's decision to issue visas charge-free, mutual travel and communications will not suffer that much."

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