President, Minister, Honourable Members,
Two weeks ago, MEPs Howitt, Kukan and Vajgl, together with whom I facilitated the political agreement last summer, once again played a key role in helping the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia address its political challenges, keeping the political agreement alive.
Their visit to Skopje followed a letter from the Head of the EU Delegation and the US Ambassador to the Prime Minister presenting our view that the conditions for organising credible elections on 24 April were not in place.
With the EU Delegation and the US Embassy, your colleagues brokered a deal among the political leaders to postpone the date of the early parliamentary elections from 24 April to 5 June. I would like to stress how important it is that the European Parliament has played its role to engage with the country to help in the democratic process and I would like to be present with observers around the election day.
I also would like to seize this opportunity to thank the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Rapporteur Ivo Vajgl for the Resolution, which is before you today for adoption. I find it balanced and in line with the main findings of our 2015 Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
As you all know, the reporting period was very challenging for the country.
I am convinced, however, that our report struck the right balance.
On the one hand, we acknowledged that the country has a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. It has also a relatively good level of alignment with the acquis. This means that the right laws and strategies are more or less in place. The issue, as in all countries, is their application and implementation – as well as political will to take hard decisions.
On the other hand, the country has faced the most severe political crisis in years. The parliament was boycotted by the main opposition party for more than a year.
The situation deteriorated further with the publication of the intercepted conversations which suggest that the system has been undermined by political interference and high level corruption.
In order to overcome this political crisis, we adopted a two track approach. Firstly, the political agreement, which was reached by the four political leaders last summer, was a decisive step forward. Some commitments have been met within the agreed deadlines. The main opposition party returned to the parliament and the Special Prosecutor was appointed in September. I regret that some other deadlines have been met with considerable delay and required active involvement from the EU and the US.
In parallel to the political agreement, in June last year, we presented a set of ‘Urgent Reform Priorities’, aiming at addressing underlying rule of law issues. Once again, political will is key to progress on these priorities.
In our Report, we stated that the Commission is prepared to extend its recommendation to open accession negotiations with the country, conditional on the continued implementation of the June/July political agreement and substantial implementation of the Urgent Reform Priorities. We are monitoring these issues constantly and will report on this in due course.
As you rightly pointed out in your Resolution, the inter-ethnic situation remains fragile in the country.
Proactive measures should be undertaken to address inter-ethnic issues and to build greater trust between communities. In this respect, the review of the Ohrid Framework Agreement needs to be completed.
Good neighbourly relations are also essential for the country. Resolving the name issue remains a priority.
The country is also on the front line of Europe’s unprecedented refugee’s migration crisis and the Commission remains committed to continue to help the country in this challenge.
I look forward to the debate.