Brussels, 17 March 2023
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Thank you. Thank you, President, [of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski] for hosting me and my team today, tonight.
We had a very important and useful discussion. We talked about North Macedonia’s accession process certainly, but not only [about it].
We discussed about the situation in the wider Balkans region – a region which has a strategic importance for the European Union.
I had the opportunity to brief the President on the outcomes of today’s Stabilisation and Association Council which, as the President has said, was the first ever in this country.
I appreciated your role, Mr President, a strong role and an outspoken supporter of the reforms needed to move North Macedonia closer to the EU membership. These reforms have to be agreed and implemented for the benefit of North Macedonia – not only on the European path, but in order to build a more vibrant democracy, and a more prosperous economy.
I also appreciated, Mr President, your role in regional affairs and your contribution to the regional cooperation and [to] the stability of the Western Balkans.
Because good relations among neighbours
– and regional cooperation – remain essential elements of the enlargement process. If the Western Balkans countries have to become members of the European Union, it is good, it is necessary, that they have among them good relations and good regional cooperation.
In this context, we discussed about the next High-Level meeting of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue – which I have the honour to coordinate – that will take place tomorrow in Ohrid.
And I want to thank you, I want to thank North Macedonia, for providing the venue for this important meeting, [and] for your overall support to the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. And I hope that the beautiful landscape of Ohrid will create the nice atmosphere necessary to reach [an] agreement.
Allow me, President, to briefly recall where we are and where we want to go.
Three weeks ago, in Brussels, Prime Minister [of Kosovo, Albin] Kurti and President [of Serbia, Aleksandar] Vučić agreed on the European Union’s proposal. A proposal tabled by the European Union, with the strong support of France, Germany, Italy and the United States. They agreed that this proposal will be the path to normalisation of relations between them.
They also agreed that we would meet again soon to finalise the implementation Annex. An agreement is good, an implementation path is better. And this meeting that we agreed, is going to take place tomorrow in Ohrid, in order to define the practical steps that have to be followed – in concrete timelines, what needs to be done, [by] when and how.
Because we have a long story of agreements that have never been implemented. The added value of this agreement is that it has to be implementable. And we have to agree on when and how to implement.
Since the last meeting in Brussels, there has been a high-level shuttle diplomacy and our Special Representative [for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue], Miroslav Lajčák, has been travelling extensively to Belgrade and Pristina.
Both sides have provided comments on the Implementation Annex. We will discuss tomorrow, and we will produce a consolidated version of the Annex based on their feedback. And then, I hope, Kosovo and Serbia will be able to agree on the final result of these discussions.
This implementation Annex will be an integral part of the Agreement in order to share a clear understanding of how we will put in place all their provisions.
If we manage to do that, Mr President, we will put the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia on a sustainable, long-term and future-oriented track, overcoming the permanent crisis management in which we have been for the last months.
This will have a clear positive impact on Kosovo’s and Serbia’s European path and increase the stability of the region. I hope that we will create a new dynamic and a new momentum for the enlargement, which should be also useful for everyone in the region.
I am going to Ohrid with the hope of facing a unique opportunity for Kosovo and Serbia to move forward, and to make progress to normalise their relation. Mr President, in your presence, I want to underline that this opportunity should be used – because no one stands to benefit from it more than people in Serbia and Kosovo, as no one is benefiting from the necessary reforms to be a part of the European Union, [as much] as the citizens of the countries which are today candidates. And there are opportunities that should not be lost.
On Monday, I will brief the [EU] Foreign Ministers [about this meeting]. The European leaders will be briefed on Thursday and Friday. Today, the eyes of the European Union and the Western Balkans people are looking at Ohrid. Let’s hope that we will be successful.
And finally, Mr President, if you allow me, I want just to make a comment about one news that I learned minutes ago.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for President Putin for the war crimes of [unlawful] deportation and transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
The International Criminal Court states that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual [criminal] responsibility for these crimes.
And the gravity of the crimes and the statement of the ICC speak for themselves.
This is an important decision of the international justice and for the people of Ukraine. We have always made clear at the European Union that those responsible for the illegal [Russian] aggression against Ukraine must be brought to justice.
And this International Criminal Court issue is just the start in the process of accountability and holding Russia and its leader to account for the crimes and atrocities they are committing in Ukraine.
Mr President, the European Union appreciates and supports the work of the International Criminal Court and its investigators. There cannot be impunity.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-238684
Source – EEAS
Joint press statement following the 16th meeting of the EU – North Macedonia Stabilisation and Association Council
Brussels, 17 March 2023
The EU – North Macedonia Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) held its sixteenth meeting on 17 March in Skopje. The meeting was chaired by Mr Dimitar Kovachevski, Prime Minister of North Macedonia. The Delegation of North Macedonia also included Mr Bojan Maricikj, Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Bujar Osmani, Minister of Foreign Affairs. The EU delegation was led by Mr Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, represented the European Commission.
This was the first time that the SA Council meeting took place in North Macedonia, underlining the European Union’s full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans and to the accession negotiation process of North Macedonia. The meeting provided an opportunity to take stock of the progress that North Macedonia made in the preparations for EU membership and within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, and to discuss the further work needed. Participants welcomed the advanced process of analytical examination of the EU acquis (screening), while looking forward to the completion of the screening process.
Participants welcomed the clear EU strategic objective and ambition of North Macedonia to move forward in the accession negotiation process based on continuing the reform progress, while reaffirming EU commitment to further support North Macedonia in its endeavours towards EU membership. Participants also underlined the importance of continued reform and further consolidating the implementation of reforms, in the interest of the citizens of North Macedonia.
Given the new geopolitical reality following Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the EU strongly underlined the importance of further deepening the cooperation on foreign policy issues. The EU welcomed and strongly commended North Macedonia for its full and consistent alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, including on EU restrictive measures. This is a strong expression of North Macedonia’s strategic choice and place in a community of values. The EU also welcomed the holding of the 2023 Chairpersonship of the OSCE by North Macedonia in the challenging global context.
Participants noted the importance for further overall progress in the areas covered by chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security). Building on progress already made, sustained efforts are needed to ensure the independence, professionalism, transparency and impartiality of the judicial system. The EU encouraged North Macedonia to further step-up investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in corruption cases, including at high level. The SA Council welcomed the conclusion of the Status Agreement between the EU and North Macedonia on operational activities carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) in North Macedonia and looks forward to its entry into force.
The EU encouraged all parties in Parliament to continue to work together constructively and to build cross-party consensus focusing on making concrete steps in the negotiating process and maintaining the current reform momentum.
Regarding economic developments, the SA Council recalled the ‘Joint Conclusions of the Economic and Financial Dialogue between the EU and the Western Balkans and Turkey’ on the Economic Reform Programmes of 24 May 2022, and encouraged the government to focus on their implementation and follow-up. It called on the country to address remaining key challenges and to mitigate negative consequences of the Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation remain essential elements of the enlargement process, as well as of the Stabilisation and Association Process. Existing bilateral agreements, including the Prespa agreement between North Macedonia and Greece and the Treaty on Friendship, Good-neighbourliness and Cooperation between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, need to be implemented in good faith.
The EU will continue to strengthen and intensify its engagement at all levels to support North Macedonia’s political, economic and social transformation, including through continued assistance based on tangible progress on the rule of law and socio-economic reforms, as well as on adherence to EU values, rules and standards. Following the adoption of the legal framework for the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) III, which is the main funding source, the EU underlined the need to strengthen the administrative capacity of IPA structures to ensure smooth implementation of IPA III programmes.
The EU is looking forward to the full implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan and the Green and Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, both important tools for bridging the socio-economic gap, improving infrastructure and connectivity, and supporting the region’s green and digital transition while building resilience and energy independence. In the last three years North Macedonia received EUR 276.3 million grants and EUR 362.5 million loans within the framework of the Economic and Investment Plan. Participants also recalled the importance of the EU’s EUR 1 billion Energy Support Package for the Western Balkans (EUR 500 million in grants and EUR 500 million in soft loans & guarantees), of which EUR 80 million for North Macedonia aims to protect the most vulnerable groups affected by the energy crises, in particular businesses, households and SMEs while advancing energy transition and diversification. The first tranche of EUR 72 million was already disbursed.
The Stabilisation and Association Council also held an exchange of views on developments in North Macedonia and the regional situation in the Western Balkans.
Source – EU Council
EU-North Macedonia: Remarks by HR Borrell at the press conference after the Stabilisation and Association Council
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Prime Minister [of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovachevski], Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
The Stabilisation and Association Council is the highest political forum for the dialogue between the European Union and a candidate country.
Usually, it takes place in Brussels or in Luxembourg, in the premises of the European Union.
But today, for the first time ever with North Macedonia, we held this Council here, in Skopje.
And we wanted to do so in order to show the appreciation for the progress achieved by North Macedonia on its European path.
It also demonstrates the importance that we attach to our relationship with North Macedonia as a future member of the European Union.
Having this Council meeting here today clearly shows that the European Union is coming closer to you.
And it also shows that the Western Balkans are and will continue to be a key priority for the European Union, as an important part of our geopolitical dimension.
Last year in July, based on a negotiation framework agreed by all 27 Member States, North Macedonia opened accession negotiations. This is an important date in the history of North Macedonia on its European path.
The door for full-fledged membership is now open.
And our meeting today has been a good opportunity to look at what has been done, what has been achieved by North Macedonia in working on the necessary political and economic accession criteria.
We have been discussing where more efforts are needed [and], what tasks lie ahead – especially in the areas of rule of law, judiciary and fighting against corruption.
But the clear message that comes out from this Council meeting and discussions is that the future of North Macedonia and its citizens lies within the European Union.
Because only together, we will be strong enough to deal with the challenges of the difficult geostrategic environment that we face.
To get there, you have to continue moving forward – as a country [and] as a whole society.
To move forward means continuing adopting and implementing reforms that introduce European standards and bring concrete political and economic benefits for the people here.
Moving forward also means improving relations with your neighbours – including creating the conditions to adopt the Constitutional amendments. This year is crucial.
After the July agreement, it is the best deal that you can get, and it is not realistic to believe that this can be reopened for new negotiations. It is on that basis that your future is in the European Union.
Now is [the] time for all political parties to exercise their responsibilities and work in earnest on advancing on this path.
We also discussed the regional and international context – and how Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine has created new geostrategic challenges for all of us. Not only for Ukraine, not only for the European Union, for the Western Balkans too, for North Macedonia, for the whole world.
And I have to say that North Macedonia has demonstrated a clear and unequivocal support for the European Union’s foreign policy, and a consistent full alignment with our positions and decisions, including on sanctions against Russia.
I have been in charge of building this common foreign policy, and proposing and implementing the sanctions, I am very happy to recognise and commend this clear position from North Macedonia. We also value highly the important assistance that North Macedonia has provided to Ukraine.
In doing that, North Macedonia has expressed its strategic choices and a truly European behaviour, reflecting our shared values and principles.
North Macedonia’s has been the OSCE Chair, and I also want to commend its role. In the OSCE, North Macedonia is also acting in defence of European values, showing once again that North Macedonia is a reliable partner for the European Union. But I know, we know that, at the same time, this position also makes you a target of hostile actions from the enemies of the rules and international principles. Taking this posture is not for free, it comes with a cost, and we know it.
And that is why we are strongly engaged in building up your resilience. We have increased our policy Dialogue on countering hybrid threats, in cybersecurity, including the protection of critical infrastructure.
And to be concrete, I am happy to announce – we announced during the meeting – that we will provide €9 million in assistance from the European Peace Facility (EPF) to upgrade the equipment of the Armed Forces of North Macedonia.
Allow me to conclude. To conclude, North Macedonia is demonstrating much dedication and good preparation to proceed in the accession process. It is crucial to build on the recent achievements and continue delivering on the reform agenda, not allowing any kind of backsliding or delay.
The European Union will stand by your side, guiding [and] supporting you – during these difficult times, helping for example the government to provide electricity bill subsidies for citizens.
But our support and assistance is much wider and is meant to be for the benefit of the people here, and also, for the European Union because we are trying to build a common and shared future.
Q: High Representative Borrell, for entering the Bulgarian community in the Constitution, it is necessary [to have] the support of the main opposition party in the country VMRO-DPMNE in the Parliament. In communicating with them, do you encourage this party to give support to this process?
I am more than optimistic – like my friend Oliver [Várhelyi Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement] – I am “activistic”. I think that we have to push for things to happen, and North Macedonia has committed to amend its Constitution. North Macedonia has committed to amend its Constitution to include in the Constitution citizens who live within the borders of the state and who are part of the people – such as Bulgarians.
Nothing is strange. Look at the Constitution of Croatia, the youngest EU Member State. [It has] at least 22 communities living in the country. And I think that your country provides already a good example of a multi-ethnic society. Therefore, amending the Constitution will only advance further on fundamental rights. And I have no doubt that this will preserve Macedonian identity and at the same time, will advance [the country] in the accession process.
You are not sacrificing your identity on the altar of the EU accession. Your identity will be absolutely preserved. Because human beings have several identities: you will not be less what you are because you are becoming a member of the European Union. This, I think, is very important. You have so far advanced in the accession process. You have to continue advancing in this process and for that, it is necessary to fulfil the commitment that North Macedonia agreed on. I think that [it] is as clear as that.
- Link to the video (starting from 8:15): https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-238683
Source – EEAS