The European Commission said on October 10 2012 that it was recommending that European Union accession negotiations be started with Macedonia.
The recommendation was made after the EC adopted its 2012 regular progress report on Macedonia.
The Commission said that it had concluded that the country “continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria for EU membership”.
The government in Skopje has been addressing ambitious reform targets established through a High Level Accession Dialogue with the Commission.
Macedonia continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria for membership of the EU, according to the EC report.
“The High Level Accession Dialogue with the Commission has served as a catalyst for accelerating reforms and has contributed to substantial progress in a number of key policy areas.”
The EC said that the government in Skopje had adopted proposals for the improvement of the legislative framework for elections and, in the area of freedom of expression, for the decriminalisation of defamation.
“Inter-community dialogue has been strengthened through a review of the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement.
The EC added that the reform momentum “needs to be sustained in all areas related to the political criteria, focusing in particular on the rule of law, including freedom of expression, to ensure implementation”.
Dialogue between the coalition partners and between government and the opposition needs to be further developed. An inclusive approach with civil society (including more regular consultation between government and civil society) needs to be taken forward.
The talks under UN auspices for a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the dispute between Athens and Skopje on the use of the name “Macedonia” should be pursued with increased vigour, as should direct bilateral meetings and contacts, the EC said.
The economy of Macedonia continued growing at a decelerated pace in 2011, but declined in the first half of 2012, the EC said in its report.
The country has made further progress towards becoming a functioning market economy, the EC report said.
The EC said that there had been further improvements in simplifying business registration, accelerating judiciary procedures, deepening financial intermediation and strengthening the rule of law.
“The country should be able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union in the medium term provided that it vigorously implements its reform programme in order to reduce significant structural weaknesses.”
Little progress, however, has been achieved in addressing the very high structural unemployment, in particular among the young and poorly educated, the EC said.
As a result of continued fiscal deficits and increased external lending, public sector debt increased.
“The quality of fiscal governance has remained low, mainly due to an excessive focus on short-term measures and limited planning capacities,” the EC report said, adding that the functioning of the market economy remained “impeded by difficulties in contract enforcement”.
Some regulatory and supervisory agencies still lack the necessary resources to fulfil their functions effectively, the EC said.
“The competence and efficiency of public administration in providing services to businesses requires improvement.”
Further progress was made in aligning legislation, policies and administrative capacity with the EU, in particular in the areas of free movement of goods, competition, food safety and veterinary policy and Trans-European networks, the EC report said.
“Further efforts are needed in other areas such as the environment, social policy and employment, as well as regional policy and co-ordination of structural instruments.”
Overall, Macedonia has achieved a good level of alignment with the acquis at this stage of the accession process, the report said. The country had also continued to implement smoothly its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and the Commission has proposed to move to the second stage of the Association Agreement, the report said.