Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Macedonia works towards NATO membership

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski attended a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels and reported on Macedonia's reform progress Wednesday (January 23rd). After the meeting, he confirmed that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and others welcomed the news.

"The NATO ambassadors congratulated Macedonia on the reforms in its judiciary, Ohrid Accord implementation, economic progress, fight against crime and corruption, as well as its political dialogue," Gruevski said.

"No decision has been made and reforms have to continue. It is very important to keep the pace, to press your foot on the accelerator so the reforms become irreversible," de Hoop Scheffer said. "It is important that there is the right political culture regarding the way political parties, government and opposition relate to each other. There are no tickets punched yet," he added.

Late last year, Gruevski said in an interview in the Vecer daily he was confident that Macedonia would receive an invitation to NATO membership at the April summit in Bucharest because it had fulfilled tent of 12 preconditions set by high-level NATO representatives.

A NATO assessment confirms that Macedonia has met almost all of the conditions of its action plan. For example, internal conflicts have been resolved, resulting in outcomes such as the election of the final member of the Republic Judiciary Council, rendering the high-level judicial body fully functional.

Additional progress includes the establishment of an appellate court, the adoption of laws and measures to protect classified material and data, and the election of new local police commanders in most municipalities. Furthermore, officials continue to fight organised crime and corruption. The country has jumped ahead 21 positions on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Macedonia's name dispute with Greece was also addressed at the North Atlantic Council meeting. According to the Macedonian news agency MIA, officials concluded that the UN negotiations process, led by envoy Matthew Nimetz, should be intensified.

Macedonian leaders worry that the issue could pose a stumbling block to NATO entry. Although the Alliance has not said a settlement is a precondition for membership, Greece could use its veto power to block its northern neighbour's bid.

"I would like to emphasise that the problem is not easy. Certainly, we'll intensify the efforts in settling this 17-year-old problem," Gruevski said. "If the problem were easy, it would have been resolved by now."

While remaining upbeat about the likelihood of receiving an invitation, Gruevski considered the other scenario. "Should we not get an invitation, the country will remain stable but will face more economic challenges. Some extremist groups might be encouraged and start making trouble, but we will eliminate such problems quickly."

"It would still be best for Macedonia if we received an invitation," he added.

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