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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Open hearing on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Open hearing, European Parliament
Brussels, 6 March 2012
First of all, I would like to thank Mr Richard Howitt and the organisers for this opportunity to discuss the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I welcome the pro-active role of the European Parliament in enhancing our relations with this country. Such joint activities are a valuable way of supporting the accession process. The road to the EU is a challenging one and it is important to have encouraging friends who share their experience and advice.
I would also like to thank Mr Howitt for his excellent work as rapporteur. We look forward to the adoption of the European Parliament Resolution on the accession process of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia next week.
Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
Dear honourable members of the European Parliament,
the Western Balkans region provides many examples of good progress in the accession process.
Croatia, having completed its negotiations, is expected to become the 28th Member State of the European Union in July 2013.
The Commission has recommended opening accession negotiations with Montenegro.
Last week, Serbia has been granted candidate status and is also moving forward.
The European Commission will present a feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Kosovo and the EU this autumn.
We would like to see Macedonia also moving forward, together with its neighbours!
Last year, the European Commission recommended beginning the accession negotiations, repeating for the third time its recommendation from 2009 and 2010. This is based on our assessment that the country is indeed ready to reach a higher level of integration with Europe. I am grateful for the European Parliament's continued support for the Commission's recommendation.
However, the Council has not yet acted on our recommendation. Such a decision can only be taken on the basis of unanimity. Therefore, it is important that the efforts aimed at creating a favourable climate are maintained. The Council has yet to adopt the Commission proposal to move to the second stage of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
It is in this context that the Commission is taking the initiative to establish a High Level Accession Dialogue, as suggested by President Barroso. We aim to move the country closer to the European Union and keep the EU agenda as the driving force of transformation. Together with Prime Minister Gruevski, I will launch the dialogue in Skopje on 15 March.
We have identified five key reform areas for discussion at the first meeting of the High Level Accession Dialogue. Progress in these areas would send a strong signal of the country's commitment to its European perspective.
First, the freedom of expression of the media should be fully protected. Deputy Prime Minister Arifi launched a working group in the autumn, which has established a much needed process of dialogue. We welcome the discussions on the decriminalisation of defamation, which is a key demand for journalists in the country.
Second, the rule of law needs to be further strengthened. In this field, the High Level Accession dialogue will be in line with the new approach proposed by the Commission. It will be supported by a technical dialogue between experts in the country and the Commission's services.
Third, public administration reform must go forward. The next challenge is the implementation of the reform strategy adopted in 2011. A stable and effective public administration remains crucial for economic growth, as well as for inter-ethnic relations.
Fourth, electoral reform needs to be completed. The 2011 general election was well-conducted but the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) strongly recommends further reforms, which should be adopted in good time before the next election.
The fifth area where we want to deepen our dialogue concerns the development of a functioning market economy. The country has made some progress in recent years. Together with the national authorities, the Commission held an Economic Policy Conference in November that outlined the need to deepen structural reforms. This discussion is now very familiar to us in Brussels as structural reforms are often discussed and viewed as key to enhancing the competitiveness of the eurozone countries.
In addition to these issues, I cannot overstate the importance of good neighbourly relations. This means, among other things, the need to take into account the sensitivities of neighbouring countries. In International Relations, perceptions matter. Good neighbourly relations remain an absolutely essential part of the enlargement process, and working out compromises on contested issues is the best way to enhance regional cooperation.
A solution to the name issue remains key. Building on the progress made in 2011, the negotiation process must continue and the remaining issues should be resolved as quickly as possible. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment should provide further impetus to resolve the matter. I am encouraged by the fact that talks are now restarting. It is now high time for both capitals to focus on finally resolving this long overdue issue.
It is a political reality that a solution to the name issue will greatly facilitate the opening of accession negotiations. I must emphasise that the High Level Accession Dialogue is by no means a substitute for actual negotiations. It is clear that our ultimate goal remains the opening of accession negotiations. Nonetheless, the High Level Accession Dialogue should be useful as a bridge towards opening negotiations. It should also help to create a climate that is favourable to progress in all areas in which reforms are needed.
Dear Friends, 2011 saw the twentieth anniversary of independence and the tenth anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has come a long way in the past twenty years, and has shown that it can overcome challenges and achieve real progress. Macedonia now stands on the threshold of a new era, during which it should take its place within the European family. With a clear strategic vision, consistent action and the support of all political forces, I am confident that this can be achieved. The Commission, together with Macedonia's friends in the European Parliament, will continue to offer its full support along the way.