Anyone who knows me knows I am a strong supporter of the European Union. It has its flaws but I believe it is beneficial for all member countries - and this includes the United Kingdom whatever our press say about it.
Well today the European Commission has released its annual report on Enlargement and it contains some encouraging news - especially for Croatia and Macedonia.
The verdict is Croatia should complete its accession talks next year with entry likely in 2011 or 2012 - which would bring our number up to 28.
And the Commission has recommend talks with Macedonia begin - starting the formal process of the country joining.
From my point of view I think this is fantastic news.
Other countries on the candiate / potential candidate list haven't faired so well in the Commission's opinion with Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey, Montenegro and Kosovo all having been identified as having issues remaining that would block accession talks - either in terms of corruption, lack of independence of the judiciary, infighting, or human rights. Kosovo has the additional barrier of not being recognised as independent by all EU nations to overcome also.
It's not all bad news though. Progress has been noted in most - so hopefully the next few years will see these countries also join our ranks. I like the sound of the EU having 35 nations (or more).
I'm hopeful all these nations will be able to move closer to Europe and eventually join the European Union. I've always felt that in Europe it's a case of together we are stronger. So the more countries join and the more we can stand together and speak as a united group of states the better.
And then we have to add in Iceland. As a very recent applicant the country is not mentioned in the report - although as their laws and institutions already are largely adherent to the European model it is not likely to be a long accession period.
All I can say is...Bring It On!