The Republic of Macedonia "has continued to make progress, although at a slower pace in 2006", according to the latest regular report by the European Commission, released on Wednesday (November 8th).
The report praises Macedonia for its "constructive position on Kosovo status talks", as well as for efforts to create an information society. It lauds progress in employment, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, social policy and some aspects of transport policy, taking note also of legislative progress made towards a customs union.
At the same time, the EC has concerns in a number of areas. In particular, it criticises Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's administration for making too many politically motivated staff changes after its victory in the July elections. "Appointments and dismissals in the administration continue to be politically influenced. Large scale changes occurred in the administration after the change of government," the report says.
The EC is also critical of what it describes as a lack of communication and co-operation with the opposition, in particular with Ali Ahmeti's Democratic Party of Integration (DUI).
One year after achieving EU candidate status, Macedonia has not been given a date for the start of membership negotiations. Gruevski and his government had said they did not expect the report to mention a date, though they insist the talks could realistically begin some time in 2007.
The report is a "road sign for moving ahead, [indicating] what weaknesses we should focus on. And we will do that," Gruevski said.
Radmila Sekerinska, the new leader of the Social Democrats, said a chance has been missed. The report should be seen as the final wake-up call, she said.
Parallel with the report, the EC also released a paper on the bloc's capacity to integrate new members.
"Further accessions are likely to occur in the medium to long term, given the present state of pre-accession preparations," it says. Media reports quote sources in Brussels as saying Macedonia can hope for membership between 2012 and 2014.
The document also terms it "unlikely" that a large group of countries will accede simultaneously in the future. Rather, countries will be evaluated and progress individually on the basis of a reinforced monitoring system.