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Speech: Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: important to move towards European integration

European Commission - SPEECH/14/101   05/02/2014

Other available languages: none

European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: important to move towards European integration

Joint debate Balkans / progress reports, European Parliament, Plenary Session

5 February 2014

President, Honourable Members,

Thank you for your invitation to participate in today's joint debate. Let me first of all express my gratitude to:

• Doris Pack for her report on Bosnia and Herzegovina;

• Richard Howitt for his report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and

• Charles Tannock for his report on Montenegro.

All three reports are well balanced and accurately reflect the findings of the Commission's 2013 Progress Reports on the three countries.

Turning to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, I would like to start with two remarks:

First, in October last year, the Commission, once again, decided to renew its recommendation to open negotiations with the country. We continue to believe that opening negotiations will contribute to maintaining the pace and sustainability of reforms and to strengthening inter-ethnic relations.

Second, 2013 was in many ways a lost year for the country and the Commission has called for urgent measures to be taken in key areas such as:

• the independence and competence of courts;

• media freedom; and

• electoral reform.

We have also stressed that the review of the Ohrid Framework Agreement needs to be completed.

We welcome that there have been some positive developments over the past weeks in some of these areas, including an inter-party agreement on electoral reform. We hope that the amendments to the electoral legislation will help to create a solid legal environment for competitive elections and a level playing field for candidates in the Presidential elections scheduled for spring.

The cross-party agreement on electoral reform demonstrates that national interests can be put before party interests. The country should build on this consensus and move forward through mature political dialogue in other areas as well. This is the only way to prevent a recurrence of the political crisis that the country went through following the events of 24 December 2012.

The European Commission will continue to support the country in addressing all these challenges through regular dialogue and targeted financial cooperation.

Good neighbourly relations are an essential part of the country's progress towards European integration.

The country has good relations with all of its Western Balkans neighbours, but its relations with Greece remain affected by the name issue. Relations with Bulgaria are affected by different understandings over historical and cultural issues.

Renewed efforts from all sides are needed to improve relations and trust between parties need to be strengthened. With a clear strategic vision, consistent action and the support of all political forces, I am confident that this can be achieved.

Closing remarks

President, Honourable Members,

Turning to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the European Union agenda remains the strategic priority for the country, and not only for the government but also the opposition. It is important to move the country forward on its path towards European integration.

I strongly believe that the opening of accession negotiations would consolidate the necessary reforms and ensure their sustainability. I am grateful for the European Parliament's continued support for the Commission's recommendation. Without a clear European Union prospect there are serious risks of backsliding.

I cannot over emphasise the importance of good neighbourly relations. This means, among other things, the need to take into account sensitivities of neighbouring countries.

Good neighbourly relations remain an essential part of the enlargement process, and working out compromises on contested issues is the best way to enhance regional cooperation.

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