Today’s day is historical. Finally, after 17 years and very hard compromises, the process for North Macedonia’s accession to the big European family begins. The first step toward the European future has been made, and the three-decade-long dream is at hand, stressed Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski after the first intergovernmental conference with the European Union that took place on Tuesday at the EU’s Council in Brussels. The end of this long-awaited meeting basically signals the start of the accession negotiations while the Union is beginning its screening of Macedonian institutions.
One of the first steps toward the accomplishment of the 30-year-old dream about which the Macedonian prime minister spoke, was made by Macedonia 18 years ago i.e. when in 2004 it applied for membership status in the European Union. North Macedonia received candidate status in the forthcoming 2005. The first recommendation for the start of the negotiations was given by the European commission 4 years later and the EU’s Council confirmed this with a unanimous decision in March 2020. On the road toward the EU, the country changed its constitutional name, and lastly, it signed an agreement and a protocol with the neighboring Bulgaria, which has caused great concern for many.
Previously, in 2001, the Republic of Macedonia was the first country that signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Communities and its member countries.
Due to the longstanding and tiresome waiting in front of the European doors and the concessions that the country has made in the meantime it wasn’t a coincidence or odd that in several of the speeches today – at the press conferences and the intergovernmental conference, in front of the European representatives, but also the Macedonian citizens, Kovachevski didn’t miss to stress that the Macedonian language and identity, in the end, remain protected.
With today’s intergovernmental meeting between the Macedonian and the European delegation, the EU Council’s decision was basically operationalized and the process of the country’s EU accession was opened.
The intergovernmental conference was preceded by a meeting between the Macedonian and the Albanian prime ministers, Dimitar Kovachevski and Edi Rama, with the EU Commission’s President Ursula Von Der Leyen. At the press conference, EU Commission’s President stressed that today’s opening of North Macedonia and Albania’s accession negotiations is a success for both countries and their citizens.
“You have made all of these changes not because they were needed on your journey toward the EU but after all, because they are good for your countries. These are already delivering a better and more qualitative life for your people. The European Commission supported you all the way and we shall continue to do so,” said Von Der Leyen.
The accession negotiations will be strict and will require dedication
The intergovernmental conference was opened at the EU’s Council by Jan Lipavský, the Czech Foreign Affairs Minister, which is presiding over the Council, he reminded that the accession negotiations, on basis of the enlargement methodology that was adopted in March 2020, are an important step for North Macedonia’s relations with the EU. They show the Union’s support for the Western Balkan’s European perspectives.
“Your country is part of European history, legacy, and culture, and we greet the intensification of the already well-established connections. We greet North Macedonia’s decisiveness to promote its EU agenda and dedication to implement the reforms in the country,” stressed Lipavský.
He stressed that the gains are obvious for both sides. Lipavský said that the next intergovernmental conference will take place without any additional political decisions, when the country meets its obligations regarding constitutional changes, as was stated in the Council’s conclusions that were adjusted with the internal procedures. He also invited the Committee to evaluate North Macedonia’s readiness for opening the accession negotiations.
The Czech Head of Diplomacy stressed that the negotiations that were opened today will be strict and will demand a lot of dedication.
“In the period up to the accession, North Macedonia will have to adjust progressively its policies toward third countries and its positions in international organizations with policies that were adopted and adjusted on part of the Union and its members. Parallel to accession negotiations, the Union and North Macedonia will continue with the dialogue for civil society and cultural cooperation in order to bring closer the people and to secure the support of the people for the accession process,” said Lipavský.
On the road to Europe, you will not lose your identity, said the European politicians. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell as he talked about the “major breakthrough that is key for North Macedonia,” said that the EU was created to overcome divisions and to heal the wounds and we can only advance together, by fully integrating the Western Balkans in the European Union.
“Today, North Macedonia is moving to the next stage on its path into the European Union. We are living a critical momentum and this momentum has to be seized by North Macedonia to push ahead with the crucial reforms. And we will support you on that,” stressed Borrell.
He stressed that no one loses their identity on the road toward the European Union, so neither will North Macedonia. Through the accession negotiations, its society will be transformed in a manner that all other societies were until they became fully-fledged members.
“On your path to the European Union, you will not lose your identity – none of us does. We have a complex multi-layered identity. North Macedonia with its identity, its own identity, its rich history, and culture, has always been part of Europe. You do not need Council Conclusions to know that,” said the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Today’s conference is a deserved recognition of the advancement that North Macedonia has managed to achieve in the past several years by promoting the reform and the country continues to meet these conditions, said the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi.
“You have continued with the good work on internal reforms, the strengthening of democratic institutions, you have a varied civil society. The rule of law and the fight against corruption have to be greeted and you are a successful role model for multiethnic society and this is why you deserve to continue further with the accession process,” stated EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi.
He said that the European Commission is ready to start the screening process this afternoon.
“This will be the result of the work that we have already done with your administration, and it will allow us to identify all of the major issues that will have to be solved during the negotiations, including the areas where the efforts will have to be intensified,” said Várhelyi.
Kovachevski: The state is ready to take over all of the obligations from the negotiation framework, but it expects its neighbors to do the same
As he addressed in the Macedonian language during the intergovernmental conference, Prime Minister Kovachevski said that this historical day has been a long time coming, but it was deserved. He congratulated the citizens for their tenacity and clear vision about what kind of state do want to have and to leave to other generations.
“After 17 years, we are taking a key step forward on the journey toward the accomplishment of our decade-long dream for which the majority of people, tens of our state leaders, political representatives, the civil sector, academic and scientific workers, businessmen, journalists and media workers, and thousands of civil servants have worked diligently. All of them have a share in what we have managed to achieve so far,” said the Macedonian prime minister.
He also said that in order to accomplish this strategic goal, the state has done a lot, it has made difficult decisions that have asked for leadership and courage, wisdom, and responsibility, but these were patriotic decisions in the interest of the future of the next generations and the country itself.
Kovachevski was adamant that this was the final decision that will secure the preservation and strengthening of the Macedonian identity, language, and culture
“The European Union is accepting us as Macedonians, we speak the Macedonian language, with unconditional respect for the dignity and the distinctiveness of the Macedonian nation and its identity, historical and cultural features. This has been secured forever. These are things that are not negotiable nor will they be negotiated,” stressed Kovachevski.
The President of the Macedonian Government said that he feels proud that the Macedonian language will be a language that will be used in the process of EU accession negotiations.
“We are waiting with great anticipation for the day when North Macedonia becomes a fully-fledged EU member country and the Macedonian language becomes one of the EU’s official languages, equal to all remaining 24 official languages in the Union,” said Kovachevski in his introductory address at the intergovernmental conference.
Премиерот Димитар Ковачевски и вицепремиерот за европски прашања Бојан Маричиќ, фото: Мета.мк
He also said that the continuous aid that the EU will provide in the forthcoming period will allow the Macedonian citizens and the economy to gain concrete and real support. The country, however, is completely ready to take over the EU’s legislation as part of its internal legal order and to build efficient administrative and judicial capacities for its appliance.
“With faith in ourselves, our ancestors, tradition, and distinctiveness and with a clear view toward the future, we are moving the country forward, in order to build for today’s and tomorrow’s generations a democratic European society where there will be a place for everyone, where the rule of law will have a primary importance and the people will be economically secure,” said Kovachevski.
Kovachevski said at the moment, the EU’s enlargement policy is directly contributing to the peace and stability in the Western Balkans. On the other hand, North Macedonia, according to history, geography, and civilization belongs to the European family.
Toward the end of the part of the intergovernmental conference that was open to the general public, Kovachevski stressed that the country is ready to take over all of the obligations from the negotiation framework but also that he expects identical and consistent relations and readiness from the neighboring countries and the partners.
“We share the same values, and from now on we will share a European future. The European future with unconditional respect for the dignity and the distinctiveness of the Macedonian nation and its lingual, identity, historical, and cultural features. I’m glad that these issues, including bilateral issues that aren’t directly related to the EU’s legislation and the Copenhagen membership criteria, will not be talked over during the negotiations, as was undoubtedly confirmed by the European Commission’s President at the Parliament of the Republic of North Macedonia,” said Kovachevski.
He said that during the timespan of the negotiations, the Government, as before, will adhere to the enactments of transparency and inclusivity of all social actors. Through a deepened and advanced dialogue, the cooperation and the partnership with the civil sector, the Parliament, the President of the country, the opposition and other actors, will allow their proactive inclusion in the creation of the policies and the process of decision-making related to the accession process.
The prime minister stressed that the state, through intensive and diligent work, has the goal to be completely ready to take over the obligations for an EU membership by the end of 2030, in order to be able to become a member country by the start of the next EU budgetary period.
After the session with the Macedonian government ended, the European Union had an intergovernmental conference with Albania, which is walking toward EU membership along with North Macedonia.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said that today they have taken important steps forward in the opening of accession negotiations with both countries. He stated that now, the second phase of institutions’ screening process is unlocked.
“Hard work lies ahead for our negotiators, in Skopje, Tirana, and Brussels, in this crucial phase. In the coming months, this will build a solid basis for the opening of the clusters of negotiating chapters,” stated Michel in his address after both intergovernmental conferences were over.
The first meeting about the screening -process with both countries will take place this afternoon starting at 16:30 h.
A special correspondent from Brussels: Goshe Nikolov