Zaev and Hahn: Macedonia to Get back on EU Integration Path with 'Strong Commitment and Reforms'
With a staunch commitment and dedication to reform implementation, Macedonia will restore its EuroAtlantic integration process, said the country's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, at their joint press conference in Brussels on Monday.
Zaev is in the Belgian capital for his first official visit after assuming office as Macedonia's premier. His agenda includes meetings with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, the European Council President Donald Tusk, and the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Zaev said his meeting with Hahn provided 'a constructive and open sharing of views' over Macedonia's EU perspectives. Macedonia and the other Western Balkan countries, he added, are partners of the EU and now a support is needed more than ever in view of signals and acceleration of the EU integration processes.
"My first official visit to Brussels, after being appointed as prime minister, is demonstrating our clear orientation and the commitment of my government to strengthen the EU integration process. There's no alternative to EU membership, which is the key strategic priority of Macedonia. Our objective is to get a date for start of accession talks as soon as possible because Macedonia has been a candidate country since 2005 having had no start of talks yet. I believe it is high time this process is pushed ahead," Prime Minister Zaev noted.
The Macedonian Prime minister stressed that the EU support should be justified with real results at home as regards strengthening of the judicial system, rule of law and reforms in the public administration. Zaev said the Urgent Reform Priorities were also discussed at the meeting with Hahn, which are required by the European Commission to be fulfilled so as to lift the conditions for a recommendation for launch of accession negotiations.
To that end, Zoran Zaev noted, the entire government of Macedonia should make an effort to make a step forward through an open dialogue with both the opposition and the civil society.
"The plan is to lend a hand through a wide inclusive process in the society and a support to reforms. To boost good neighborly ties is an integral part of my program as solid and strong relations between the neighbors, based on mutual respect, are required. Thus, my first bilateral visit will take place in Sofia this month, for talks with Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov in order to bolster cooperation and to build bridges of support. Also, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov will travel to Athens on Wednesday in an attempt to open fresh opportunities for a closer political cooperation with Greece," PM Zaev told the press conference after his hourlong meeting with Hahn.
In turn, the EU Commissioner said he had told Zoran Zaev that today's meetings in Brussels had demonstrated a strong commitment of the new government in Macedonia to EU integration and further progress in general.
"Prime Minister, your country has turned a new page after the long political crisis during which a lot of time and energy has been lost. Now we have a fresh start, but there's no time, a lot of work needs to be done in order the nation to get back on the Euro-Atlantic path. Still, I'm encouraged by the realism you've demonstrated today and we expect the new government as well as the opposition to work together as regards EU-oriented reforms," the Commissioner Hahn underscored.
Macedonia requires a national consensus regarding the EU integration, he said, that will surpass both the political and ethnic lines because now the country is facing great challenges, but also great opportunities. He said that together they discussed the key EU reform priorities of the government with the Macedonian Prime Minister informing him about the measures taken as regards the reform agenda and improvement of relations with neighboring countries.
Hahn said the European Commission would help any way it could. "I will visit Skopje on June 26 in order to scan the efforts of the government in various aspects of the Urgent Reform Priorities. The expert (Reinhard) Priebe will visit the country in the coming days and is planning on returning in July with a team in order to advise the new government on how to address matters as regards the rule of law. However, the implementation of all segments of the Przino Agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities is the key this is essential for the country to get back on the right track of the EU integration path," said Commissioner Hahn.
Moreover, Zaev and Hahn discussed the transport community, i.e. the agreement which is due to be signed in Trieste. Zaev said he had offered Skopje to be the host of the secretariat for transport community so as to support the initiative for the regional economic integration. Migration, fight against terrorism, radicalism and violent extremism, he noted, are the common challenges facing all of Europe.
The opening of negotiations requires a positive progress report and an EC recommendation, followed by a consensus of all 28 EU countries, according to Hahn. In this context, the Commissioner welcomed Zaev's upcoming visit to Bulgaria and this week's visit to Greece to be paid by the Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov adding that it was important to find a solution to the name issue, based on mutual trust.
"There's a mutual understanding that a progress needs to be made regarding this matter in order to be relevant for the future and to import stability. A mutual solution must be found, which is possible if we have an openminded approach. A solution acceptable for all should be found," the EU Commissioner stated.
Hahn rejected the prospect of the EU starting negotiations with Macedonia under its provisional name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. According to him, a permanent solution is the key, instead of a provisional one.
"The former government had been working on confidencebuilding measures and it must be continued in the same direction. At the end of the day, I hope this is human and that a solution can be found. It won't be easy, many have tried for years, but there is a new momentum now and I'm confident we can use the situation to make a progress," said Hahn.
Asked how the name issue might be solved, PM Zaev said 'a solution could be found if there's a friendly approach.' He said Macedonia would look forward to its EUfuture, instead dealing with the Europast or the past of the countries in the region.
"If it wants to, Greece could block the integration process in every negotiating chapter and there a total of 35. But, if Macedonia presents reasons by building friendship with all of its neighbors, including Greece, then we can expect a positive atmosphere to be created to discuss this sensitive issue as well. We need support from the neighbors and from Greece to help Macedonia on its path to EU and NATO membership," Zaev concluded.
In Brussels, the Prime Minister Zaev is accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska, the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Bujar Osmani and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.
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