European Union must give Macedonia a positive signal

The European Union must give Macedonia a positive signal by approving the nation's application to begin entry talks with the bloc, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Friday. European leaders were discussing Macedonia's bid at a two-day EU summit where some diplomats have said the decision to open entry talks would be part of an overall agreement on future EU spending.

France expressed doubts earlier this week about whether the former Yugoslav republic is ready for entry talks, and said the EU should finish the debate on the bloc's future first and determine whether it can afford further enlargement.

But Asselborn said Macedonia's status and the budget battle were separate issues.

"There is no link; the link is not direct," Asselborn told journalists Friday. "It would be a (mistake) if we don't give the right signal to Macedonia." Macedonia applied for membership in March 2004, three years after it nearly slid into civil war when ethnic Albanians took up arms to demand more rights.

EU governments are satisfied with the progress Macedonia has made in reforming its judiciary and fulfilling the criteria necessary to open negotiations with the bloc, leaders said in a draft statement to be adopted later Friday. At the same time, the governments warned that "the absorption capacity of the EU must be taken into account." German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said earlier this week in Berlin that he expected EU leaders to back Macedonia, noting the importance of stability in the Balkans. Steinmeier said four EU members were skeptical of Macedonia's bid but predicted they would agree to the step, reports the AP. I.L.

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