BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union told Macedonia on Friday it must resolve a row with EU member Greece over its name to get a date to start membership talks, but did not rule out new steps this year towards entry.
“Maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution on the name issue, remains essential,” said a draft final statement from a meeting of EU leaders.
The draft, obtained by Reuters, said further steps “are possible by the end of this year” if all conditions are met.
Macedonia, which split from Yugoslavia in 1991, has the same name as Greece’s most northerly province. Athens says Skopje must use a compound name such as “New” or “Upper” Macedonia and already blocked Macedonia’s bid at a NATO summit in April to be invited to join the defence alliance.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said late on Thursday resolving the name dispute was also key to advancing ties with the EU.
“What I can say for certain is that Macedonia will be given a date to resume negotiations as soon as all conditions are fulfilled,” he said after the first day of talks.
“There are some conditions that need to be met which are not completely in the remit of the EU institutions,” he said, citing “the issue of the name.”
Gunfights and fraud during Macedonia’s June 1 elections did not help Skopje’s case. In the summit draft, the EU called on Macedonia to ensure that elections due next year would be free and fair, and to crack down on corruption and organised crime.
Reporting by Mark John and Ingrid Melander; editing by Philippa Fletcher