admin1 – December 17, 2005 – 12:22pm

European leaders granted Macedonia the EU candidate status in Brussels early on Saturday.

In the conclusions adopted at the end of the 2-day EU summit, the Union leaders saluted Macedonia's significant progress in fulfilling membership criteria. On the other hand, they stressed that a lot more needs to be done in the future to meet fully the EU standards.

The conclusions include France's request for opening a debate in the EU regarding the future EU enlargement.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed the decision of the European leaders at a press conference early on Saturday, broadcast live by the Macedonian state-run television.

"The vision of the EU is united Europe. Macedonia is part of that vision," Mr. Blair stressed.

The Union should now set Macedonia a date for starting accession talks encompassing all the aspects of the EU membership within 32 chapters, MIA reports.

In their televised addresses shortly after receiving the candidate-state status, Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski and President Branko Crvenkovski hailed the EU leaders' decision , thanking the Macedonian citizens for their unwavering support and trust along the way toward the EU.