The Latest: After nod from EU, Macedonia pledges new reforms
BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on the political situation in the Balkans (all times local):
Macedonia’s prime minister has promised to press ahead with reforms in the justice system, public administration and anti-corruption arena to bolster the country’s bid to join the European Union.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev made the pledge on Tuesday while warmly welcoming the European Commission’s recommendation to start membership talks with Macedonia and Albania.
Macedonia was granted EU-candidate status in 2005. An ongoing name dispute with neighbor Greece over the former Yugoslav republic’s name delayed its progress toward joining the bloc.
Zaev’s government has launched negotiations with Greece aimed at resolving the longstanding dispute.
The small Balkan country also is seeking membership of NATO, despite strong objections from Russia.
Kosovo’s president has called on the European Union to offer clearer prospects and treat it equally on its path to membership in the bloc.
Hashim Thaci says that Kosovo remains committed and with “the proper will to intensify its steps toward integration into the EU.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged Kosovo to continue reforms and talks with Serbia, “including on the achievement of a legally binding agreement.”
Thaci urged Brussels to lift the visa regime for Kosovars after it approved last month a long-pending border demarcation deal with Montenegro set as a precondition from Brussels for Kosovo’s citizens to travel without visas in Europe’s Schengen travel zone, the last among former Eastern European countries.
In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, which Belgrade still rejects.
Albania is hailing the European Commission’s recommendation to launch membership talks while acknowledging the country faces a rough path to join the bloc.
Prime Minister Edi Rama said the commission’s backing Tuesday shows the tiny Western Balkan country has “at last come out of a crossroad between the past and the future.”
Rama said during a news conference that launching membership negotiations would mean “entering into a new stage, more difficult, of the reforms and further escalation of the fight against crime and corruption.”
Albanian Foreign Affairs Minister Ditmir Bushati called it a “great day for Albania,” but also “a day to roll up sleeves and carry on the hard work.”
Albania was granted EU candidate status in 2014.
The European Commission is recommending that the EU launch membership talks with Albania and Macedonia, even as enthusiasm for enlargement of the 28-nation bloc wanes.
The EU’s executive arm, which monitors reform progress among countries hoping to join, said Tuesday that the two are on the right path.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the recommendations “are based on firm, strict assessment of progress made.”
She added that “this decision to recommend opening negotiations is an encouragement to these countries to continue on the path of reforms.”
Macedonia’s membership prospects have been held up by a dispute with Greece over the tiny Balkan country’s name.
EU member states must endorse the European Commission’s proposal before talks can start.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is warning that the volatile Balkans could face a return to war if countries in the region have no hope of joining the European Union.
Juncker told EU lawmakers Tuesday: “I don’t want a return to war in the Western Balkans.”
He said: “If we remove from these countries, in this extremely complicated region, I should say tragically, a European perspective, we are going to live what we already went through in the 1990s.”
EU and Balkan leaders meet in Bulgaria next month, but the EU is unlikely to invite any country to join soon.
The prospect of EU membership has proved a driving force for reform in the Balkans, which was torn apart by war as former Yugoslavia broke up.