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European Enlargement Commissioner on Monday arrives for a third round of “high-level” talks with the government on a reform process intended to complement future accession negotiations.
|European Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele|
Stefan Fuele’s visit to Skopje comes just before the European Commission in October is to publish its annual report on the country’s progress on its road to EU membership.
His impressions from the talks are expected to give the final note to the report, which is expected to be positive in its overall tone.
Fuele’s spokesperson, Peter Steno, said that the Commissioner would like to see "more activities for further strengthening inter-ethnic relations and full implementation of the  Ohrid [peace] accord".
He added that freedom of speech needed strengthening through decriminalization of libel and changes to the electoral framework.
Fuele will meet Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski as well as the Vice Prime Minister in charge of European Affairs, Teuta Arifi. He is also set to meet the main political party leaders.
At the talks, Arifi will present the results of the country’s reform action plan.
The plan, presented in May, during the previous round of talks in Skopje, envisaged about 150 reforms and legal changes in the five fields that Brussels last time identified as weak points.
Arifi then offered a deadline of September for Macedonia to implement the plan, which envisages strengthening the rule of law and freedom of speech and reforms to the public administration, election legislation and the market economy.
Ahead of the talks, Arifi sounded optimistic, maintaining that most of the envisaged reforms had been undertaken.
“These are reforms in very sensitive areas, covering areas that are of key significance for democracy, so it was important for us to stick to the agenda,” Arifi said.
EU officials have stressed that the Brussels-Skopje dialogue is not intended to bypass Greece's blockade of the country’s EU membership talks.
The idea is to keep the momentum for reform going until the diplomatic problem with Greece is resolved.
Macedonia gained EU candidate country status back in 2005, and for three years in a row since 2009 the European Commission has recommended a start to accession talks.
But the EU has not offered an actual start date for the talks owing to the Greek blockade, related to the dispute over Macedonia’s name.
Greece insists that Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims to its own northern province, also called Macedonia. Both countries are engaged in long-standing talks in the UN to resolve the issue but these have not led to a breakthrough.
There has been speculation in the Macedonian media that this time Brussels may extend a start date for EU membership talks, but Fuele’s office refrained from comment.
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