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EU executive says membership talks should start with North Macedonia

FILE PHOTO: European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn speaks during an interview with Reuters at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission formally recommended on Wednesday that North Macedonia should start membership negotiations to join the European Union.

The recommendation followed a meeting of the Commission in Brussels, Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner in change of enlargement, said. EU governments must agree to allow talks to start and will discuss the issue in June.

The ex-Yugoslav republic changed its name from Macedonia, this year opening the way to join NATO in 2020.

“It’s a long process, we are talking about several years,” Hahn told reporters.

He cautioned that Croatia took eight years to meet the bloc’s joining criteria, which range from human rights to monetary policy.

Speaking earlier to EU lawmakers, Hahn cited growing Chinese presence in the Balkans as a reason to support North Macedonia’s candidacy, despite some resistance from France and the Netherlands, in a region that the European Union says must eventually become part of the bloc.

Now on a pro-Western path, the country peacefully seceded in 1991 but came close to civil war in 2001 when ethnic Albanians launched an armed insurgency seeking greater autonomy. NATO and EU diplomacy pulled it back from the brink of civil war.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan