BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU leaders agreed on Saturday to make Macedonia a candidate for membership of the bloc but said its entry would have to await a broader debate on how far the bloc should enlarge, the EU's British Presidency said.
"The European Council decides to grant candidate country status to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,"
EU leaders said in written conclusions to a summit.
Leaders welcomed Macedonia's "significant progress" towards meeting the EU's political and economic criteria for membership, but made clear there was much further work to be done before Skopje could be considered for membership.
They also reinforced recent French demands that any further enlargement of the bloc -- which took in 10 new member states last year and is due to take in Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 or 2008 -- should depend on a broad debate across Europe.
"The European Council makes clear that further steps will have to be considered in the light of the debate on the enlargement strategy," it said.
It also called for further significant progress to respond to other issues and criteria for membership "on the basis of specific benchmarks," which it did not itemise.
The executive European Commission had recommended granting Macedonia, which was on the brink of civil war four years ago before an EU-mediated power-sharing agreement with its Albanian minority, candidate status as part of a broader strategy of integrating all the countries of the Western Balkans.