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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Address to the Joint Parliamentary Committee
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EU-former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee
Skopje, 19 February 2010
Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament,
Thank you for inviting me to this meeting of the EU-former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee. I am particularly happy to be with you in Skopje at the very beginning of my mandate and at the start of what I feel is a particularly important year.
The European Union is starting a new political cycle, with a new Parliament, a new Commission and the entry into force of the long awaited Lisbon Treaty. Enlargement policy remains one of the enduring policies of the European Union. I have personally experienced the transformative power of the enlargement process as my country joined the European Union in 2004. I am convinced that it is the key to the future for the countries in the Western Balkans region, individually and as a whole.
Last year, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia made convincing progress and substantially addressed the key reform priorities, also known as the 8+1 benchmarks. The Commission considered that the country sufficiently fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria. These elements enabled the Commission to recommend the opening of accession negotiations.
Now it is up to the Council to decide. In December, it concluded that it would return to the question during the Spanish presidency.
It is vital at this stage that the country keeps up the momentum of the reforms. Further progress is needed in key areas such as public administration reform, the fight against corruption and reform of judiciary, as well as the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement.
In 2009 visa liberalisation and the Commission recommendation have brought you significantly closer to Europe. It showed what can be achieved when there is a clear focus, hard work and political consensus. On my side, let me assure you that I am committed to your country's European future.
The lesson of 2009 was that reforms at home bring results in Brussels. The removal of the visa requirement has enabled 200,000 citizens by mid-January to travel to the EU without cumbersome procedures. There is no better demonstration that when you make the necessary efforts, the EU keeps its promises. I know that you, as representatives and leaders of your country, will do your utmost to ensure that motivation remains high and that all political forces and the administration remain mobilised. Reforms are not adopted to please Brussels but rather to bring benefits to the country by raising your standards to those of the EU and creating opportunities for your citizens. They will stand the country in good stead for the negotiation process.
I appreciate the constructive role played in regional cooperation. The demarcation of the border with Kosovo is very positive for regional stability.
The Commission recommendation should also be taken as a strong encouragement to finally settle the name issue. We underline in our conclusions that "maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential".
We are encouraged by the direct dialogue at the level of Prime Ministers which began at the end of last year. The country's progress in the accession process means that there is now a unique window of opportunity for a solution, which should be grasped. As I stated in the European Parliament last week, I am fully committed to supporting the talks, which, with the necessary political will, should lead to a solution.
The enlargement of the European Union is in our mutual interest. It provides the best possible framework for political, economic and social development. At the European Parliament last week I was struck by the very strong commitment of Parliamentarians from all over the EU, to continue this historic project.
The EU is an extraordinarily successful peace project which is the best antidote to old rivalries and our gateway to the future. I look forward to making that journey with you.