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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Opening address at 10th anniversary Conference on Ohrid Framework Agreement
10th anniversary Conference on Ohrid Framework Agreement
Skopje, 5 September 2011
Prime Minister, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to participate in this Conference. This event shows the wide appreciation for the Framework Agreement from home and abroad.
Today, we are celebrating peace and the victory of tolerance and diversity over conflict. History is full of examples of how national resentments and frustrated aspirations spilled over into war.
By agreeing to the Ohrid Framework Agreement, your country avoided a civil war. By agreeing to compromise your leaders ensured peace to allow your country to develop.
Ultimately, the Framework Agreement allowed you to become a candidate for membership of the European Union and NATO.
Throughout this process, the European Commission has been by your side. We have dedicated over 100 million Euro to finance projects. These focused on decentralization, on police reform and on strengthening the Secretariat for the Ohrid Framework Agreement.
Now we look forward to the next ten years. What will you be by 2021? What will you offer your citizens? How will your economy be?
I can't tell you these answers – your actions will determine what future your country will have. The future is yours to shape.
But today we will focus on the Ohrid Framework Agreement.
First, I would like to outline some of the achievements since the agreement was made. However, there were shortcomings, which I will also consider.
Second, I will look towards the future. I will examine the role the agreement still plays in helping your country move towards the European Union.
So, what has the Ohrid Framework Agreement agreed?
Firstly, it provides important key guarantees in many areas: decentralisation, non-discrimination and equitable representation, education and the use of languages and the expression of cultural identity.
This way, you help this country fulfil one of the most important criteria for membership of the European Union: Respect for fundamental rights, including minority rights.
Secondly, the Ohrid Framework Agreement led to concrete reforms.
A decentralization process is now underway, empowering municipalities who are best placed to understand the needs of their communities.
But of course, important challenges remain.
Schools need to be integrated so that your young citizens and tomorrow's leaders grow up with respect for ethnic diversity.
The government's Strategy on Integrated Education needs to be implemented. The trend towards ethnic separation in the school system needs to stop.
Decentralization needs to be more effective, while ensuring balanced regional development. All of your citizens need opportunities, particularly those in poorer, often rural areas.
Implementation is key.
To give one example: proper statistics are needed to measure equitable representation within the state administration. However, in addition to simple numbers, it is also important to ensure that all recruitments are de-politicised and meritocratic.
On a related subject, the population and household census is scheduled for later this year. We will continue providing technical support and advice. But for this support to be effective, other sensitive issues should be resolved before the process begins in October.
But let me return to the Ohrid Framework Agreement itself. Over and above concrete reforms, the Agreement is significant because of the new spirit it brought to inter-ethnic relations.
People moved to conflict to a dialogue, and the society has moved forward. The 'spirit of Ohrid' remains a vital asset in addressing the new issues on the agenda.
This 'Ohrid spirit' also sent a very important message to the outside world.
Good inter-ethnic relations are the best advertisement for your country. It encourages tourism and is not lost on foreign investors, who are crucial for future economic opportunities and growth.
An educated workforce that masters the languages of the wider region is an asset you should develop to the full. In turn, economic growth will lead to jobs and opportunities, which will create a positive climate. This virtuous circle is within your reach.
I welcome very much the discussions and reflections held during this anniversary year. Building on this, now is the time for the government to set out its vision of how to go forward with implementation of the Agreement. A comprehensive approach is needed, including an overview of the results achieved to date and an Action Plan for the future.
Now, looking to the Future:
The Western Balkans region is on the move again. The accession negotiations have been successfully completed with Croatia, through hard work and credible reforms. The door is still open to others.
We want you to be part of this positive picture. You have achieved a lot and the Commission recommended starting accession negotiations n 2009.
But there is no room for complacency. Much more needs to be done. Difficult decisions need to be taken to consolidate the quality of state institutions and of democracy.
Reform of public administration must be based on merit.
The independence of the judiciary needs to be strengthened in practice.
The real fight against corruption must begin.
Freedom of expression and of the media must be respected and cherished.
We are ready to start negotiations with you. However, the name issue needs to be resolved before accession negotiations can begin. Member states in the Council have made it clear that this problem will not be imported into the European Union.
Through the Ohrid Framework Agreement, you have shown the world that you are able to resolve your sensitive questions. Adopting the same 'Ohrid spirit' of pragmatic compromises will help resolve the name issue. The constructive discussions with Athens have made good progress and now, I am sure, the conditions are right for an agreement.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ohrid Framework Agreement has withstood the test of time. It has worked because it was made by your leaders, and was rooted in your reality.
The Ohrid Framework Agreement remains an important factor in your movement towards EU membership. Indeed, "the road to the EU goes through Ohrid".
Today, your country stands at the threshold of the European Union, with the promise of a better future for all your citizens.
We stand by you now as we did in 2001 - ready to help you to deal with your challenges and take the country forward.
Your creativity and the 'Ohrid spirit' of compromise and vision will be the key ingredients of success.