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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Statement on the 2010 Progress Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
European Parliament Plenary Session
Strasbourg, 6 April 2011
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the state of play of the accession process with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I also thank Mr Vigenin for taking this report forward, building on Mr Thaler's thorough preparation. The report is comprehensive, accurate and sets out the challenges ahead.
Over the last 20 years the country has made significant progress for two reasons. Firstly, great efforts had to be made to overcome difficult problems and even conflicts. Secondly, the European perspective has been a great incentive for progress. The challenge today is to use the very same formula – great efforts combined with a European incentive – to take the country forward.
I am grateful for the support of the European Parliament to the Commission's recommendation to start accession negotiations. We believe the country is ready to engage in a higher level of integration with Europe. In fact the accession negotiations are our most powerful instrument to support reforms.
Yet I must share with you my preoccupation with recent developments. Our recommendation confirmed that the country has sufficiently met the political criteria but underlined that further efforts are needed in most areas. Developments so far this year have not shown the expected progress.
The Commission has been consistently asking for political dialogue, judiciary and public administration reform, fight against corruption, freedom of expression and implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement.
I had a very good meeting with Prime Minister Gruevski in Brussels on 24 March. We agreed to step up our efforts to bring the EU agenda back to top priority for the country. The Commission will support and monitor the process, including through a regular accession dialogue between the Commission and the government.
Concerning elections, we expect that the leaders will spare no efforts to ensure that elections will be fully transparent and in line with the best international standards. The timing is up to them.
I continue stressing that freedom of expression is fundamental and that journalists must be able to express their views freely. The Commission expects due process and non-selective application of law.
The fight against corruption also needs to be pursued vigorously. I fully agree with the emphasis placed on this subject in European Parliament's report and I welcome your suggestions regarding strengthened monitoring in this field.
For me, the 10th anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement this summer is an opportunity to take stock of implementation, to bring all the communities of the country together and to renew the commitment to address the ongoing challenges.
Lastly, on the post-visa liberalization monitoring, we need a review of the measures taken to prevent abuses of the visa regime. Countries benefiting from visa-free access to the EU need to take all necessary measures to limit unfounded asylum applications.
2011 is an important year for the whole region. President Barroso and I will be visiting the region together, starting tomorrow and concluding in Ohrid on Saturday. We will be showing our commitment to the countries of the region and at the same time underlining that they should spare no effort in creating a positive momentum for enlargement. It is important that Skopje takes an active part. It is therefore essential that the name issue is solved. Both parties have repeated their commitment to find a solution. I would have hoped that this would be more substantially reflected in the recent round of negotiations in New York.
I have consistently raised the matter, encouraging both parties to remain fully engaged. And I know that the two Prime Ministers in their direct contacts have already invested considerable efforts in reaching a mutual acceptable agreement. I hope that they are able to capitalize on these efforts this year. A solution would be a major breakthrough in turning 2011 into a promising year for enlargement.
I also thank you for your comments and requests related to the IPA Programme. IPA is the concrete demonstration that we do not only assess and criticise countries, but we in fact support them very practically in their efforts. Therefore I fully agree with you that this instrument must be used as efficiently and effectively as possible.
I take note of your requests for further funding in the areas of unemployment, transport and the environment, to add to our ongoing efforts.
For most IPA components, the choice of projects is the responsibility of the national authorities. This is very important for the country's ownership. Furthermore for the period 2011-2013, we are introducing, together with the authorities of the country, the so called sector based approach. It means we will focus on sectors where the help is most needed, and plan for several years ahead. In this context, your suggestions are very valuable input for our ongoing programming dialogue.
In conclusion, I believe the Commission and the Parliament are very much in agreement on the achievements of the country, and the remaining challenges. I very much hope that the name issue will indeed be resolved in the near future, and before the judgment of the International Court of Justice is awaited in the autumn. We are all keenly aware that the European Union has its role to play in providing the right incentives. We are at a critical juncture with the country. It can either take the path towards Europe, to our mutual benefit, or stand by as the rest of the region moves forward. This is a time for all of us to fulfil our responsibilities and our commitments.