MEPs on Wednesday (10 February) urged member states to open accession talks with Macedonia, a call backed by the new enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele.
In three separate reports, the European Parliament gave the thumbs up to progress made by Zagreb and Skopje towards EU accession, while Ankara's performance was deemed more modest.
"I am glad to see there is strong consensus between the European Parliament and the EU commission that accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia should start," Mr Fuele said on his first day in office, during the plenary session in Strasbourg.
A decision on opening membership talks with Skopje was delayed last December following pressure by Greece. Athens has problems with the name of its neighbouring country, since Macedonia also corresponds to a historical Greek region.
The parliament urged member states to take a decision "at the summit in March 2010" and "expects negotiations to begin in the near future."
Mr Fuele said the decision was not only in the interest of the Balkan country, but also of "strategic EU interest," since it would "enhance the EU perspective for the wider region" – a message he would convey to member states and Skopje.
Slovenian Socialist MEP Zoran Thaler, the parliament's rapporteur for Macedonia, warned of the negative regional consequences of this stalemate, comparing the Western Balkans to a bicycle: fine as long as it's moving, "but if it stays still, everything falls over."
"Greece should be a generous mentor," he said, urging the member state to sit down to try and work out a solution to the name issue.
Meanwhile, Greek and Cypriot MEPs said that it was not politically acceptable for any Greek government to give the nod to opening negotiations before the name issue was solved. They also warned against playing to what they called the "nationalistic" tune of the government in Skopje. Macedonian authorities had irked Athens with its decisions to name highways and airports after Alexander the Great, king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon.
The Spanish presidency, represented by EU affairs secretary Diego Lopez Garrido, gave a rather chilly evaluation of Macedonia's progress, reflecting the mood among member states. He was elusive on whether the EU would agree to open talks in March, talking of a "need for a timetable for accession negotiation and a solution to the name dispute."
"The EU institutions believe the future of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is in the EU", he said, while also stressing a series of shortcomings regarding the fight against corruption, proper implementation of laws, gender inequality and minority rights.
Macedonian authorities have indicated they expect to start and complete the talks within five years.