Sunday, January 21, 2007

Slovenia To Help Macedonia Start EU Membership Bid

STRASBOURG, France (AP)--Slovenia's prime minister said Wednesday that his country will focus on the western Balkans when Ljubljana takes over the rotating European Union presidency next year.

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said one goal would be to set a date for Macedonia to begin E.U. membership talks.

Macedonia, like Slovenia an ex-Yugoslav republic, is an E.U. candidate country but has yet to open accession negotiations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which currently holds the E.U. presidency, was noncommittal on a date for Macedonia, saying it could only be set when Skopje fulfills all the criteria for membership.

Earlier Wednesday, she warned that the bloc of 27 cannot take in new members without a constitution, a treaty meant to streamline decision-making procedures in an enlarged E.U..

The fate of the E.U. charter has been uncertain since voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution in 2005.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates said setting a date for Skopje during Slovenia's E.U. presidency in 2008 was "doable."

The three held a news conference to present the E.U.'s priorities for the next 18 months.

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