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Albania, Macedonia Urge NATO, EU to Consider Further Expansion - 2004-03-20

The prime ministers of Albania and Macedonia, two nations that will not be included in this year's expansion of NATO and the European Union, are urging those institutions to integrate the Balkans into European structures. Meanwhile, Georgia's new president said his country also considers itself part of Europe. The three leaders attended a European summit this week in Bratislava.

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano and his Macedonian counterpart, Branko Crvenkovski, urged delegates at the Bratislava meeting to give their nations credit for the often painful economic and other reforms their nations have introduced, in hopes of eventually attaining credentials for EU and NATO membership.

In May, 10 mainly former Communist countries will join the European Union, and later this month, seven countries will become members of the NATO alliance.

Albanian Prime Minister Nano said that countries like Albania need to know that, with all of their "hard work as allies and partners" they "will be welcomed into the institutions of Europe and the Euro-Atlantic family" which he stressed should not be "a distant dream in 10 or 20 years, but much much sooner."

Macedonian Prime Minister Crvenkovski urged NATO and the EU to appreciate his country's reforms, and said NATO's Istanbul summit in June would be a "crucial opportunity" for the alliance to send "a clear political message, that the doors of enlargement will remain open for all qualified," including countries such as Macedonia, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia-and-Herzegovina, and Serbia-and-Montenegro.

Slovak Prime Minister Miklulas Dzurinda, who hosted this week's meeting, and whose country is one of those joining NATO and the EU this year, says he understands the frustration of those staying behind.

"We are very happy that some of us are going to be members of the European Union and NATO," he said. "But at the other hand, we should do for [help] other countries that want to go to the same direction to reach the membership of NATO and the European Union.

Georgia's new president, Mikhail Saakashvili, wants EU and NATO leaders to think of expanding even further. "Georgia will become part of European structures and destinations," he said. "I sometimes read newspapers saying that Georgians and South Caucasians are not Europeans, and that they are Asians and not Europeans. That is all not truth. These are very ancient European cultures."

But the EU Enlargement Commissioner has warned there are limitations to how far the European Union can expand.

The official, Gunter Verheugen, said "enlargement" is not the EU's only tool, and that Europe must look into different means of cooperation.