The historic agreement between Skopje and Athens made us, Europeans, proud. It is a strategic game-changer for both countries, and for the whole of Europe. It shows that even the most sensitive and history-laden issues can be solved, with courage and vision. The two of us were present at the signing ceremony at Lake Prespa. What we saw there has further strengthened our confidence in a continent united and at peace, with the European perspective for the Western Balkans as a driver of stability at our doorstep.
This week, EU Member States positively echoed this achievement and set out a clear path towards opening accession negotiations in June 2019, setting a clear vision for the year ahead of us, and beyond. We have immediately started work on this new, common chapter, with the European Commission launching preparations for the accession talks. We look forward to working with you as you rise to this new challenge with the same resolve that has led you to recent successes.
Not so long ago, the country was in a deep political crisis. But you have managed to overcome it. You have moved forward on key reforms – not for Brussels, but for all people in the country. You reached agreements with Bulgaria and Greece, championing new dynamics of cooperation in South-East Europe and opening doors for investment, jobs and growth. All these positive steps are an inspiration for the entire region.
The road ahead is clear. It leads towards your membership to the European Union. To accomplish that, all political forces share the responsibility to maintain a constructive dialogue and continue to deliver on the citizens' aspirations, including notably through reforms in the rule of law, security services, public administration and a functioning market economy. These principles lie at the heart of the European success story. They are also what the citizens of your country ask, want and deserve. This is our joint path: the more Skopje delivers on its people's needs, the more quickly it will advance towards full membership to the EU.
On our side, the Commission has already started the necessary preparatory work towards June 2019, including the future negotiating framework. We also stand ready to support you in the continuation of reforms. Everybody has a role to play in this historic process. Unity, courage, responsibility and pragmatism from all will be essential. All political groups and parties, local authorities and civil society should take ownership of this process and together prepare the ground for the negotiations.
The work in the year to come is an investment in your EU integration. Every step counts. Walking this path will not only allow you to open negotiations, but to do so in the most effective way. The moment when negotiations formally open, you will already be running.
The doors of our Union are open. Your path towards the European Union has become irreversible. It is now up to you to walk forward on this path towards a future of common prosperity and security. It is the free and sovereign decision of your people – of no one else. Our dream of a united European continent lies in your hands.