It is the responsibility of all political leaders to work for EU membership, Borrell tells MIA
Skopje, 16 March 2023 (MIA) - North Macedonia provides a good example of a multi-ethnic society. Therefore, amending the Constitution will further advance fundamental rights. I have no doubt that you will preserve Macedonian identity and at the same time advance in the EU accession process, as you have done so far, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said in an interview with MIA.
"Membership in the EU cannot be the project of one political party, but it needs to be an all of country aspiration. In North Macedonia, citizens have expressed their aspiration to join the EU, because they want to belong to a community of values, and benefit from open borders, ease of travel, internal market, and EU standards overall. In short, citizens want peace, prosperity and a better life in the EU for them and for their children. It is therefore the responsibility of all your political leaders to work for and deliver on this goal," Borrell said.
He stressed that accession negotiations are a merit-based process, and this means that what counts is the progress achieved in fulfilling all required criteria and implementing the EU standards and related reforms.
"And these reforms will help North Macedonia advance and improve the situation and bring the country closer to the EU and EU standards first and foremost in the interest of the citizens of North Macedonia. We will stand by you and accompany the process until the finishing line, until North Macedonia becomes a full-fledged EU Member State. This is what we want and the goal we are all working towards together," the EU's High Representative added.
In the interview, Borrell said he acknowledged that North Macedonia has waited too long to get the green light for the start of the accession negotiationsfor various reasons, pointing out that at the same time, the country has no better and more dedicated partner , than the EU, as the biggest donor, biggest investor, biggest trading partner.
"Everywhere you look in North Macedonia you will already find the EU there - supporting, assisting, contributing, financing, advising. EU membership means stability, security and prosperity. EU investments are sustainable and long term, creating new jobs and opportunities.There is no doubt that the EU remains the most trusted partner of North Macedonia," said Borrell.
He spoke to MIA among other about the EU's support to strengthen security and democratic processes, increase the country's resilience against cyber-attacks, support to the Army, the war in Ukraine, as well as the upcoming Belgrade-Pristina talks in Ohrid.
Below is the full interview with the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell.
Mr. Borrell, thank you for agreeing to this interview with MIA. You are visiting North Macedonia at a time when the country is undergoing the screening process, but the continuation of the membership negotiations requires constitutional changes to incorporate the Bulgarian community in the Constitution. It seems there is no majority for such changes in the Parliament for the time being because of the resistance by some opposition parties. What messages will you communicate to the Macedonian political leaders regarding the country’s European path?
Membership in the EU cannot be the project of one political party, but it needs to be an all of country aspiration. In North Macedonia, citizens have expressed their aspiration to join the EU, because they want to belong to a community of values, and benefit from open borders, ease of travel, internal market, and EU standards overall. In short, citizens want peace, prosperity and a better life in the EU for them and for their children. It is therefore the responsibility of all your political leaders to work for and deliver on this goal.
North Macedonia has committed to amend the Constitution with a view to including in the Constitution citizens who live within the borders of the state and who are part of other people, such as Bulgarians.
Your country provides a good example of a multi-ethnic society. Therefore, amending the Constitution will further advance fundamental rights.
I have no doubt that you will preserve Macedonian identity and at the same time advance in the EU accession process, as you have done so far.
Authorities in North Macedonia put 2030 as the year of the country’s full-fledged membership. How realistic is this target?
Political leaders can achieve very ambitious goals, if they decide to invest energy in the necessary reforms. There is still a lot of work ahead and there are no shortcuts. The accession process is very technical and very demanding; The government and the Parliament have to do most of the work. That is why it is important to strengthen the administrative capacities and improve working methods of the Parliament.
But let me repeat, accession negotiations are a merit-based process, this means what counts is the progress achieved in fulfilling all required criteria and implementing the EU standards and related reforms. And these reforms will help North Macedonia advance and improve the situation and bring the country closer to the EU and EU standards first and foremost in the interest of the citizens of North Macedonia.
We will stand by you and accompany the process until the finishing line, until North Macedonia becomes a full-fledged EU Member State. This is what we want and the goal we are all working towards together.
North Macedonia waited for 18 years to get the green light for the start of the accession negotiations. That start was delayed due to various blockades, first from Greece, then France, and finally Bulgaria. All of this led to a drop of the Euro-enthusiasm among the citizens but also left room for influence from third parties. Last week, the EU allocated a grant to North Macedonia in the amount of EUR 80 million as support for the energy crisis management, but what can the Union do more to improve its image and increase the support among citizens?
I acknowledge that North Macedonia has waited too long for various reasons. But we cannot turn back time. At the same time there is no better and more dedicated partner for you than the EU. We are the biggest donor, biggest investor, biggest trading partner. Everywhere you look in North Macedonia you will already find the EU there - supporting, assisting, contributing, financing, advising. EU membership means stability, security and prosperity.
We care about people and invest in them, through mobility programs for young people such as Erasmus, visa free travel, support to civil society, support to culture and cultural heritage, down to direct financial support to citizens to pay their electricity bills in the current crisis.
With €1.4 billion of grant funding and €852 million of preferential loans for the country since 2007, the EU is by far the largest provider of financial assistance to North Macedonia.
EU investments are sustainable and long term, creating new jobs and opportunities. We invest in your infrastructure and help you build it. We include you in all our policies for mitigating the negative impact of the war against Ukraine equally with all other EU Member States. Together we are planning the transition to green technologies and renewable energy sources, as well as on energy independence. And I could continue.
There is no doubt that the EU remains the most trusted partner of North Macedonia.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine underscores the geopolitical importance of EU enlargement. It brought us even closer together. In a strong Union spanning our continent, we can defend our values and protect our citizens. I want to make clear, we don’t take for granted the fact that you stand with us in this challenging times.
In recent months, North Macedonia has been a target of hybrid warfare, including false bomb threats in numerous facilities, primarily schools, as well as hacker attacks on state institutions. How is the EU dealing with the hybrid attacks on its territory and can it help North Macedonia in identifying the sources of these hybrid threats?
I really commend North Macedonia for its full and consistent alignment with the EU common foreign and security policy, including restrictive measures. This is a strong expression of North Macedonia’s strategic choice and place in a community of values.
The EU is committed to working with our Western Balkans partners to fight hybrid threats that continue to undermine our collective security and democratic processes and support their security and also defence.
I am glad to announce that we are allocating €9 million from the European Peace Facility to support the army of North Macedonia by enhancing and upgrading the equipment of its light infantry battalion group.
The EU is supporting North Macedonia to increase the country’s resilience against cyber-attacks. As part of a EUR 4.9 million region-wide package of urgent support to cyber and information security, the EU is helping North Macedonia to enhance its ability to manage cyber incidents and strengthen its cybersecurity governance.
North Macedonia will also benefit from a €5m regional project on cybersecurity capacity building that starts delivery this year. In practical terms, the EU, together with its Member States’ specialised agencies, assists North Macedonia in detecting, investigating and responding to cyber-attacks, as well as in managing disruptions from the cyber-attacks. We continue to monitor the situation carefully and stand ready to take further steps where necessary to support North Macedonia.
The hybrid warfare has overlapped with the Russian aggression in Ukraine. What are the possible solutions for the Ukrainian crisis and is another “frozen conflict” in Europe on the horizon?
Ukraine is a victim of an unprovoked, illegal aggression. It was attacked for the simple reason that Ukraine wanted to decide about its future by itself. Putin’s declared aim is the destruction of Ukraine and of the Ukrainian nation. This is in direct contradiction with everything we – modern democratic nations of 21st century believe in – sovereignty and independence of countries, UN Charter, international law. That is why the majority of the countries in the world condemned this aggression and asked Russia to stop it. We all see the dangers if such a behaviour would be tolerated and gain the upper hand. This is why the European Union and number of like-minded partners are supporting Ukraine in its legitimate defence. Because Ukraine also fights for the respect and upholding of international rules.
Ukraine must win this war – for the benefit of global rules-based system and stability in Europe and beyond. We do not want to imagine another frozen conflict. And we cannot afford it – because if Russia gets away with its illegal actions, no one can feel safe.
Speaking of “frozen conflicts”, one of the reasons for your visit to the country is the meeting of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Ohrid this Saturday, hosted by Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski. Why has North Macedonia, and specifically Ohrid, been selected as the venue for the meeting and what can we expect from the Belgrade-Pristina talks?
The issue between Serbia and Kosovo is not a frozen conflict. Here we talk about normalisation of relations between two partners that share a problematic past and were still not able to fully overcome the negative legacy of this past. But both are anchored in the EU accession process, and I believe that both are willing to find a solution behind the negotiating table – after all they want to join the European Union and good neighbourly relations are basic principles of our Union. That is why we are helping Belgrade and Pristina with the EU facilitated Dialogue to reach a comprehensive agreement on normalisation of their relations.
The fact that the upcoming High-Level Meeting of the Dialogue with Prime Minister Kurti and President Vucic takes place in Ohrid is the result of various factors that came together in this particular time: Two weeks ago we had a good and productive meeting with both endorsing the Agreement on the path to normalisation of their relations. We wanted to use the good dynamics and after finding a consensus on the EU proposal, we agreed to meet soon to start discussing the Implementation Roadmap of this Agreement. At the same time there is a monthly meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers scheduled for Monday 20 March and the meeting of the EU Leaders scheduled for Thursday and Friday 23 and 24 March. In addition we had the meeting of Stabilisation and Association Council with North Macedonia planned for Friday 17 March and the Macedonian government generously offered the possibility to host also the Dialogue. Given all this and the fact that the Dialogue is one of the key components of our engagement in the Western Balkans, I decided to convene the meeting for this Saturday in Ohrid.
What if the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina do not demonstrate readiness for an agreement? Can the Balkans become a hotspot yet again, since the Kosovo problem is not the only open issue in the region, considering Bosnia and Herzegovina’s problematic functionality, domestic turmoil in Montenegro, political developments in Albania, while countering external influence and interests, primarily Russian ones, in parallel? Is the EU contemplating some type of a comprehensive solution for the Western Balkans?
We do not speculate on “what if” scenarios. My role is to facilitate the Dialogue and I am fully invested in it, with support of EU Special Representative Lajcak, who engages in intense shuttle diplomacy between Pristina, Belgrade and European capitals. We want to do our best to help Kosovo and Serbia to find the way to reconcile and normalise their relations. Because without that they will not be able to progress on their path towards the EU. It is in their own interest and for the benefit of their own people to find the necessary political courage to make the Dialogue a success. We will continue helping them as much as we can but in the end it is them taking the decisions. Needless to say that a successful outcome of this Dialogue will have also a very positive impact for the entire region.
Photo: European Union