Skopje, 15 January 2020 (MIA) – When it comes to the EU integration of the Western Balkans, I have good news: It will continue, said European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi in his first-ever visit to North Macedonia.
“We will work even harder to make it a reality. We need to speed up the process and make it more credible for all of us,” he added.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski, Enlargement Commissioner Várhelyi congratulated Spasovski on his recent appointment and said it marked a “very important sign that North Macedonia is a reliable partner for the EU and that the reforms that were put in place are working as they were designed.”
“For the new Commission,” Várhelyi said, “enlargement is not a taboo.
“For the new Commission, enlargement is a priority.”
“The geopolitical Commission,” he added, “cannot work without bigger leverage—bigger influence—in the region.
“We have to work on the basis of the assessment that North Macedonia and Albania are ready to start accession negotiations.
“There’s no change in that, and we will stick to our original assessment, which is that we need to start accession negotiations with these two countries.”
According to Commissioner Várhelyi, this means the Council should reach a decision to open accession negotiations before the Zagreb summit in May.
“That’s why over the coming months,” Várhelyi noted, “we’ll have a very busy schedule together with the PM and other leaders because we will have to put new proposals on the table—a new package if you will—to bring forward the enlargement process.”
The new approach will have to be more credible, more predictable, more political, more objective, and more dynamic, the Commissioner insisted.
“These are the principles on which we’re basing our new proposals, and these principles should work both for this region and also our member states,” Várhelyi said.
“We will also come forward to propose,” he continued, “the opening of the accession negotiations, once again, this spring.
“Apart from that, we will also come forward with an economic development plan for the region.
“At the Zagreb summit, we hope we can get the support of the member states to intensify our presence in the region, help close the gap in the economic development between you and us – and help bring our daily lives much closer, much faster together.”
Commissioner Várhelyi also praised the country’s substantial progress.
“So far, North Macedonia has been steady in the reforms,” he said.
“There is a national consensus,” he observed, expressing hope that the national consensus lasts long and helps the country rise to any challenges the accession negotiations may bring.
Várhelyi pointed out he had also discussed with PM Spasovski the challenge of keeping up the momentum, in particular, in delivering all necessary reforms to join the EU.
“We need the government to continue on this path and prioritize the new Law on the PPO,” he said.
If adopted by the current Parliament, this law would be a meaningful sign to EU member states, according to Várhelyi.
He also expressed hope that the elections would result in the EU getting a “clear and reliable partner in the new government.”
Offering his support and openness to work with “whomever” the new government may be, Várhelyi said the Commission didn’t intend “to interfere in the internal politics of any state, let alone accession countries.” Nevertheless, he highlighted the importance of continuing to implement the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria.
“Some good news at the end,” he added, was that he had asked the European Parliament “to release the so-called ‘performance reward’ of EUR 50 million for North Macedonia, given the performance the country has made in using up the EU funds.”
“It is the EP’s responsibility to authorize the payment,” he said, adding he expects “to get the green light within the coming days, so the country can start planning where to invest these funds.”
According to Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski, North Macedonia rightfully expects to join the EU “in the coming months, after 15 years of being a candidate country.”
“Our achievements aren’t threatened, for which we were acknowledged by the European Commission last year when immediate and unconditional start of accession talks was pointed out to the European Council.
“The recommendation came as a result of successful reforms and bold decisions to solve disputes with our neighbors, after which our aspiration to join the EU became a reality,” Spasovski told the news conference.
According to him, the country suffered a blow in October after not being given a date.
“However, we accepted that the strategic mistake will be fixed and that our results will be acknowledged according to our merits after a delay.”
“The new European Commission program is the new great hope for the Western Balkans in strengthening our position as future members of the bloc,” PM Spasovski said, noting that the European Commission was the country’s ally in its efforts to join the EU.
At a joint meeting, Spasovski informed Várhelyi about the activities of the caretaker government to organize fair, democratic and free early parliamentary polls.
This is European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi’s first official visit outside the EU and to North Macedonia.
Earlier today, he also met with President Stevo Pendarovski and Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi.
The Commissioner’s visit to the region will continue in Albania on Thursday.
The European Commission will release a mini-report on North Macedonia and Albania in February.
The new methodology is expected to be adopted in March.
In December, Commissioner Várhelyi said that accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania should be opened in the spring.
He also said the EU needed to fix the mistake it had made in Oct. 2019. mr/ba/mm