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Dear Prime Minister,
I am more than happy to be here, in Skopje, today. This is my first visit to the region as Commissioner, and my first visit outside the European Union and I wanted to start with North Macedonia. The country has been doing already a lot to become a member and has delivered the historic Prespa agreement.
First of all, I want to send my best wishes to the citizens of North Macedonia for 2020! I would also like to congratulate the Prime Minister for his appointment. This appointment marks a very important step and gives a very important sign, which is: North Macedonia is a reliable partner for the EU and the reforms that have been put in place are working as they were designed.
Now, when it comes to the European Union integration of the Western Balkans, I have good news: it will continue and we will be working even harder to make it a reality. We need to speed up and dynamise the process while making it more credible for the region, but also for our Member States.
For the new Commission enlargement is not a taboo. For the new Commission enlargement is a priority. The geo-political Commission cannot work without bigger leverage, bigger influence in the region, and I am going to devote my work to achieve that.
We work on the basis of the assessment that North Macedonia and Albania are ready to start accession negotiations. There is no change in that and we will stick with our original assessment which is that we need to start accession negotiations with these two countries. It means also that we should have a positive decision by the Council to open the accession negotiations before the EU-Western Balkans Leaders’ Summit in Zagreb in early May 2020.
That is why over the coming months, we will have a very busy schedule, together with the Prime Minister and the Leaders, because we will have to put a new proposal on the table, a new package that will bring forward the enlargement process. The new approach will have to be more credible, more predictable, more political, and it will have to be more objective and more dynamic. These are the principles on which we are basing our new proposal. And these principles should work both for this region but also for our Member States.
We will also continue to defend the opening of the accession negotiations, still this spring.
And finally, we will also come forward with an economic development plan for the region. At the Zagreb Summit, we hope that we can get the support of the Member States to intensify our presence in the region and help to close the gap in the economic development between you and us and help to bring our daily lives much closer and much faster together.
I need to praise also and acknowledge the progress North Macedonia has done so far. North Macedonia has been steady in the reforms thanks to a series of governments who have been devoting their efforts to this. Not only this government, but also the preceding government and the government before them. There is a national consensus and I hope that this national consensus will last long. This will help the ever-greater challenge once the accession negotiations are open.
We discussed with the Prime Minister that once the accession negotiations have been opened, the challenge is going to be even higher for North Macedonia to keep up the momentum and to deliver all the reforms that are necessary to become an EU Member States. It is even more important to have national consensus around the EU accession.
Therefore, we need the government and all the other institutions to implement the EU reforms, to continue on this path, and in doing so, priority should be given to the new law on the Public Prosecutor’s Office. We hope this will be done still by this Parliament. It would be a very important sign to give to our Member States.
After the elections, I hope that there will be a very clear and reliable partner in the new government. I already offered my support and openness to work with whoever is going to be in government. The Commission does not intend to interfere in the internal politics of any state, let alone accession countries. We are open to work with everybody who is ready to do the same with us.
We think it is key to continue the implementation of the Prespa agreement, whatever the next government is going to be. We equally think that the bilateral agreement with Bulgaria is also a priority, which needs to continue.
One last word, maybe just some good news at the end. I have asked the European Parliament to release the so-called performance reward of €50 million for North Macedonia, given the achievement and the performance the country has made in using up the European funds. This is now with the European Parliament and I hope to get a green light, as it is the European Parliament’s responsibility to authorise the payment, to get the green light very shortly, so that you can already plan to invest with this money.
- Publication date
- 16 January 2020
- Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations