Macedonian citizens are moving steadily towards enjoying visa-free travel to the European Union, one of the bloc's top officials said Thursday.
"I welcome the good progress done in the field of the requirements that have to be met for visa liberalization," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said after meeting Macedonia's deputy prime minister in Brussels, reported dpa.
"I know how important visa-free travel is for its citizens," Rehn said, adding that his office wanted to see ordinary Macedonians being able to visit the EU without a visa "sooner rather than later".
But Rehn's overall assessment of Macedonia's EU membership aspirations was less favourable following the violence that marred the country's elections in the spring.
"I have been following recent developments in the country with some concern. I have urged the government to take the lead to ensure the proper functioning of democratic institutions and to enhance political dialogue," Rehn said.
Measures to ensure that future elections are free and fair also need to be introduced, the commissioner added.
Macedonia, one of half a dozen countries that emerged from the implosion of Yugoslavia, became a candidate for EU membership in 2005.
In May of this year it was given a roadmap setting out a set of clear requirements that it needs to meet in order to obtain visa facilitations for its citizens travelling to the EU.
These include the introduction of biometric passports, a more secure control of its borders and tougher measures against organized crime and corruption.
"Macedonia has met the criteria for visa liberalisation," said Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Bocevski, who also holds the EU integration portfolio.
The EU is due to present its next detailed report on the country's progress towards EU membership and visa free travel in November.