Analysts say Macedonia must remain committed to reforms after EU denies accession start date for fourth year in a row.
By Biljana Lajmanovska and Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 24/12/12
A woman rides her bicycle past the European Commission building in Skopje. [AFP]
Reactions from Macedonian politicians were mixed after the EU Council declined, for a fourth consecutive year, to set a start date for the country's accession negotiations.
Political leaders and analysts told SETimes that the messages coming from Brussels are not optimistic, but some said the country must maintain the momentum of reform and focus on resetting its priorities.
"We should not be depressed by this obstacle," Macedonian diplomat Arsim Zekolli told SETimes. "On the contrary, we should use this period for a serious contemplation on how we can change our approach towards our neighbours and also toward the entire euro integration process."
Malinka Ristevska Jordanova, director of the Institute for European Policy, told SETimes it is "absolutely high time" that leaders discuss strategic issues.
"We definitely need a minimum consensus among political factors in Macedonia on the question, 'How do we continue euro integration?'" Jordanova said.
Macedonian officials were optimistic they would receive approval to prepare for accession talks, but the EU Council instead delayed action until the spring, pending a report by the European Commission that will assess Macedonia's reforms, its dedication to good neighbourly relations with Bulgaria and a resolution of the name issue with Greece.
Teuta Arifi, Macedonia's deputy prime minister of European affairs, is satisfied with the conclusion.
"The European Union gives us a framework in which, through the process of negotiations, we can and we should address these issues that have never been easy, but are easier and more acceptable to be solved through an EU process. And if we compare, we have never had a better conclusion by the EU Council," Arifi told SETimes.
Biljana Vankovska, a professor at the Institute of Security in Skopje, said the outcome from Brussels has the potential to strain fragile inter-ethnic relations.
"One dimension of the conflict will be internally Macedonian, because Macedonians will be divided when they need to agree whether the name is for sale," Vankovska told SETimes. "The second dimension of the conflict is that Macedonian-Albanian relations will get worse. These outcomes will lie on the EU's conscience."
Ermira Mehmeti, a member of the Democratic Union for Integration and the head of the parliamentary committee for inter-ethnic relations, told SETimes that getting a date for negotiations is a key factor in preserving domestic stability.
"Our main task is not to allow any provoking and creating tensions. I hope we will not allow such a scenario to happen. I do not accept the approach of building two parallel realities that only Albanians are feeling like hostages on everything that happens, and Macedonians not," Mehmeti said.