EU nod for FYROM despite name

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn announced yesterday that Brussels had approved the launch of accession negotiations between the EU and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), despite ongoing negotiations aimed at solving the dispute over FYROM’s official name. Noting that FYROM «has made convincing progress and substantially addressed reform priorities,» Rehn said the former Yugoslav republic now «sufficiently meets» the political and economic criteria for opening negotiations. Meanwhile, it emerged that Stavros Dimas, the Greek EU environment commissioner, had expressed his opposition to the move in a letter sent to Brussels. Perhaps in response to this letter, Rehn added that he viewed the launch of talks with FYROM as «a very strong encouragement to settle the name issue and thus remove this from the agenda, and I trust that the government in Skopje gets this message as well.» Reacting to Rehn’s comments, FYROM Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said, «We are aware of the importance of this report and… will actively and constructively negotiate and seek a solution with Greece under the United Nations auspices.» Rehn also revealed that the EC was dissatisfied with the progress made by Turkey, another candidate for membership. He called on Ankara to «revitalize» reform in the areas of «freedom of expression» and «women’s rights» and also stressed Turkey’s obligation as an EU member state to open its air and sea ports to EU member Cyprus, whose northern half is occupied by Turkish troops. In a related development, the new PASOK Foreign Ministry made its first complaint to Ankara after Turkish authorities sent radar warnings to an aircraft of Frontex, the EU’s border-monitoring agency, that had been conducting a patrol in the Aegean as part of the organization’s efforts to curb the influx of illegal immigrants into Europe. The harassment of the Finnish aircraft, which came on the same day as a visit to Athens by a senior Frontex official, was the fifth incident of its kind in just over a month, according to Greek defense officials. The pilots of the Frontex aircraft, which was harassed while flying east of Farmakonisi, in the eastern Aegean, ignored the Turkish radar warnings and completed their patrol as scheduled, Greek defense officials said.