Ursula von der Leyen and Olivér Várhelyi’s visit to North Macedonia doesn’t denote progress in EU accession

Претеседателката на ЕК, Урсула фон дер Лајен и премиерот Зоран Заев пред Младинскиот културен центар во Скопје | фото: Влада

After the visit of the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi will also arrive in Skopje today. Even though the visits of these two top EU politicians of North Macedonia could be seen as progress in the country’s EU accession process, it is not so. Admittedly, Der Leyen mentioned yesterday that the goal is to help the first intergovernmental conference to happen by the end of the year, which will be the official start of the EU accession negotiations, yet, it is doubtful that can happen.

Last week EU Commissioner Várhelyi visited Bulgaria, holding talks on the possibility of overcoming the Bulgarian blockade of the start of the EU’s accession negotiations with North Macedonia. Actually, at least on the surface, the Bulgarian blockade is the only obstacle for starting the negotiations.

Otherwise, Ursula Von Der Layen and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, held a press conference at the plateau in front of the Youth Cultural Center in Skopje that was renovated with EU funds.

As the Government informed, they attended an exhibition about the gains from the Youth Guarantee Project in North Macedonia, the only one outside of the EU. It includes 60,000 young people with the goal of lowering the unemployment among this category of people

The government boasted that the European Commission’s President has announced it will transfer 2,6 million EUR out of 15 million for a budgetary support for “policies for education and employment of the youth.”

Despite the clear symbolic for the youth, during the press conference, Prime Minister Zaev stressed that North Macedonia remains dedicated to the EU accession processes, but he also noted that the issue with the identity cannot be a subject for negotiations.

“We have made all the necessary steps and reforms and will make additional acceptable steps to unblock the EU enlargement.” said Prime Minister Zaev who also stressed that he hopes that the EU member countries will implement the Brdo -Kranj declaration during the Slovenian presidency and that they remain firm on the strive for EU enlargement with the Western Balkan countries.

But the Foreign Affairs Minister Bujar Osmani today publicly stated that he is not a big optimist regarding this vision.

For “Utrinski brifing” (The Morning Briefing), Osmani stressed that during the preparations of various EU bodies for a joint declaration that has to be adopted at the Brdo Summit, a dilema arose whether the aim of this summit is the EU enlargement and whether the word enlargement should be featured in that document.

“Some look upon it as a continuation of the euroscepticism by certain EU countries, which is nothing new, and others interpret it more as a defining of the summit itself, whether it is an enlargement summit or is it a summit which only presents the EU’s focus toward the Western Balkans is presented,” Osmani stated.

He also said that whatever option is the actualone, the message is not good regarding EU’s unanimity concerning Western Balkan.

“But, this is not something new. There are member countries that think the EU is functioning too heavily and it wil be hard to accept 6 new member countries, which could threaten with their veto, with their commissioners”, Osmani explained.

Yesterday, the EC President declaratively stated that she completely supports the formal opеning of the EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

“Don’t lose your faith, as you have made a huge advancement. The future of North Macedonia is in the European Union,” said Von Der Leyen, who also said that the EU is working both with Bulgaria and North Macedonia  “overcome this last obstacle.”

Furthermore, the EC president said that in order for that to happen, plenty of work is required. She considers that many talks will be necessary, “because there are many issues that can be solved with a good dialogue, by investing in good ideas about how to solve the problems.”

“The goal is to start the accession process that mustn’t be obstructed and that is why I said that our goal is to start with the first inter-governmental conference by the end of this year,” said Von Der Leyen.

In the meantime, the Bulgarian authorities, i.e. the Bulgarian Internal Affairs Ministry, has sent a protest note to the chargé d’affaires of the embassy of North Macedonia in Sofia, about a church monument at the Klepach village.

Apparently, as was reported by local media, the Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Macedonia “has discovered that the church’s yard in the village of Klepach, in Prilep area, the monument erected in honor of chieftain Velko Skochivircheto and eight of his generals that were killed in the battle with the Turkish troops in 1904, has been replaced with new one.