Press Releases EU-North Macedonia: Remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference after the Stabilisation and Association Council

EU-North Macedonia: Remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell at the press conference after the Stabilisation and Association Council

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.

Thank you.

Q&A

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.

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