||Macedonia will submit its formal bid to join the European Union on February 26 in Dublin, Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said Thursday.
Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski will visit Dublin at the end of February and is expected to submit Skopje's membership application during his talks in Ireland, which currently holds the presidency of the EU, sources from his office said.
"We will apply for the EU membership on December 26," Mitreva told deputies in the Macedonian parliament.
The assembly is expected to adopt a declaration of support for Macedonian's efforts to secure EU membership.
In December the EU officially launched a new police training mission in Macedonia which replaced a military peacekeeping operation which had been present in the country since 2001.
NATO troops moved into Macedonia that year after a seven-month conflict between ethnic-Albanian rebels and government troops which claimed up to 150 lives and nearly plunged the country into a full-scale ethnic war.
The EU is scheduled to take in 10 new members, mainly ex-communist countries, on May 1, bringing its total membership to 25 and creating the world's biggest economic zone with a population of 450 million people.
The next phase of the EU's enlargement will likely take place in 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria are expected to join.
The EU has meanwhile said the door is open for Macedonia along with its Balkan neighbours -- Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro -- to join if they wish but has not set a date for the start of accession negotiations with these countries.
Brussels however already grants these countries extensive financial aid to help stabilize their economies.
Skopje and Brussels have signed the Accord on stabilization and association -- the first step towards EU membership -- in April 2001