Check against delivery!
Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker [Goran Misovski], Mr Prime Minister [of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev].
Members of Parliament, I am really honoured to be invited to address your [Parliament], I am also very much honoured to see the guests who are making me the pleasure and honour to be present today, thank you for your presence here - members of government, Ministers.
It is for me indeed an honour but also an emotion, I always feel this certain emotion whenever I have the chance to address a Parliament - having spent myself seven years of my life in a national Parliament. It is for me really the place, the opportunity to pay tribute to the house of democracy.
Let me start by mentioning how much I value the work of each and every member of this Parliament. In our job, we often deal more with governments and other institutions, but let me say that the work that Parliaments and members of Parliaments do all over Europe is the heart, the beating heart of our democratic values and our democratic institutions. Let me start by paying a tribute to each and every one of you in this house.
It is for me an honour and an emotion to bring here in the house of your democracy, directly from Strasbourg, the good news that the European Commission decided to recommend to the Council to open negotiations for the accession of your country to the European Union.
I had the chance to say yesterday to the media: you are back and this is good. This is where you should be, back on track, with a clear, clean, positive and unconditional recommendation to open negotiations for entering our Union.
If I think of the situation I found exactly one year ago, if I think of the situation this house was facing exactly one year ago, and where you are today, you have gone a long way. Yes, as I said, the good thing, the good news is that you are back on track; you have overcome the worst political and institutional crisis you have ever experienced and you are fully back on track. This is a major achievement you have to be proud of, all of you, each and every one.
Because this is an achievement not only for the government - I want to make this very clear, especially in this house. This is an achievement for all institutions of the country, from the President [of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov], to the government, to the Parliament, to the different political groups and parties, to the local authorities, to the civil society. Let me say this very clearly: this is an achievement that has been reached thanks to the determination, the contribution of every single citizen of this country.
I heard in these last two days many people thanking me and the European Union for this recognition, but indeed it is us thanking you, because what we have done, is simply recognising, assessing, making the picture of the work and the achievements you have built. So, it is me, it is all of us in the European Union thanking you for the long way you have managed to cover in this last year.
This is an achievement for all and this has also involved the capacity from the majority, from the opposition to finally work together. This is the best way - and I come from a country where this is also not always easy - to honour democratic institutions, democratic values and deliver results for your citizens. And you have made it.
I am sure this is only the first step on a long path where more unity, more determination, more work will be needed, but will be also recognised and will constitute the basis for further progress.
These results are joint results, both for the government and the opposition. It gives both the government and the opposition the responsibility to now join forces for the coming steps to be taken. You share the responsibility for the future; for the future of the citizens and of your country.
The government has the responsibility to open up the space for full participation and inclusion of the opposition; and the opposition has the responsibility to engage and to contribute constructively to this work.
You have collectively, together, in institutions, in democratic institutions, the responsibility to identify the national interests of your country, the national priorities, that are priorities for all the citizens - regardless of their political orientations. And you have the collective responsibility inside the institutions to work together to achieve results on these national priorities.
As I said yesterday, I do not think you run the risk of losing differences. On the contrary, what you might risk losing is the capacity to deliver results on what you and your citizens share. And there are some elements that require unity and cooperation, because your citizens are united on the objective and they ask you to unite on the ways to reach these objectives. This is a hard work, but you have managed to do this and this is a recognition that I pay, in the name of the European Union institutions, to your work – the work of both the government and the opposition.
I have to say that the work you have done in this year has been impressive - what you have managed to do together on reforms in particular. And expectations are high that this spirit, this method, this way of uniting forces on some national priorities can continue. This is the strongest sign of maturity in a democratic system and I am glad to see that the opposition is back in Parliament and I am very honoured to address today in this Parliament each and every one of you. I believe you must be proud, all of you, and let this pride be the basis for the work to come, because there will be a lot more work to be done.
I used yesterday a metaphor that might sound a bit non-ritual, but then in my meeting with your President [Gjorge Ivanov] I saw that metaphors are accepted widely in the public discourse of this country.
I compared the work that we are doing together on the European Union integration path a little bit with a video game. Every time you manage to get scores on one level, you get to the following level and you have new tasks. The important thing is not to get to the "game-over", but to achieve extra points and get to the highest level. And the challenges increase. And the more you focus, the more you manage to achieve results. And the real award in this exercise, in this game, which is everything but a game, is the improvement of lives of the citizens. Translate every single success you manage to do - also in this house – such as legislation, reforms into concrete steps, and concrete deliverables for your citizens.
And it is all about this. I know that the European Union integration process sometimes is a lot procedures, standards, processes, conditions to be met, but at the end of the day it is all about the transformation of a society and standards that your citizens want to see applied to their own lives, to their own communities, to their own society, the way in which their life happens every single day. It's about having European standards, having good developments in the economy, in trade, investments, in the way in which institutions work - all of them, across the country - governance standards, rule of law, quality of life, you name it. From security to digital opportunities to the opportunities for the young people and the way, again, institutions work. This is what counts, I am sure, for all your citizens, for each and every one of you who represent the citizens, and for every single citizen in Europe in the end of the day.
So the work to come - the next level of the video game - what is it about? It is first of all the implementation of the reforms you have started to adopt and this is how you translate awards into concrete deliverables for your citizens. And there are two magic words in the recommendation we have adopted this week in Strasbourg and that is "maintaining" and "deepening" the reforms you have started to adopt, which means the sense of direction is excellent, it is good. Keep going. Maintain and deepen the reforms not only through legislative acts but also on the implementation side. Delivery here, I believe, is the key.
But again, you have delivered so much in such little time that I am very, very much confident that this energy, this determination, this focus, this work will continue and it will continue to bring results. Because I know very well that there are next steps to come, next decisions to come, including in the European institutions. We have a European Council in the end of June that will have to hopefully follow the recommendation that we have taken a few days ago. My message here is this: last year you have delivered, we have delivered. Let us continue to deliver on both sides. This would bring us in a good place.
But I would also want to recognise and acknowledge the impressive work and steps you have made not only on reforms at home but also in addressing bilateral issues and regional dynamics.
I was very pleased and honoured to attend a meeting with all the Prime Ministers of our other five partners and friends in the Western Balkans that Prime Minister [Zoran] Zaev hosted yesterday evening. We meet often and I think this is an excellent dynamic, an excellent development. You have just hosted here yesterday the Digital Summit. You have managed to solve - and I know that this Parliament has had an important role in this - a bilateral issue with Bulgaria that was, I believe, a historic step and that, I know, is already bringing the first initial good results not only in terms of bilateral relations but also in terms of interest for investments and exchanges and economy. At the end of the day things might take a bit of time, but positive results come.
You know also that Bulgaria is holding now the Presidency of the European Union and it is probably not only an important European Union Member State but also one of our strongest supporters of the work with the Western Balkans in general and of the enlargement process. So my main message today is this: keep very clear in mind the path that led you to this day, to this week where you can be proud of having a positive recommendation and being back where you should be with this positive recommendation. Do not forget how you are finding and building unity after having experienced a deep political and institutional crisis that has now passed.
I see today here in Skopje and in all corners of your country a self-confident nation, a multi-ethnic society that is uniting towards a shared national goal, the goal of joining our European Union where everybody can feel at home, a strong country where everyone can feel at home and pursue their aspirations. I believe that we - and I say we, not you - have never been this close to the moment when we stop talking about your path towards the European Union and we start walking this path together. Unity, responsibility, pragmatism, a certain vision for the future, courage are and will continue to be necessary.
I am confident that also your talks with Greece can lead to a solution that will address both sides' legitimate concerns, I'm confident that this will be and become also the foundation of a common future inside a united European continent. You know I tend to avoid speaking about enlargement, I prefer speaking about the re-unification of Europe. You have the potential to move fast, I have always believed that and I know you have always believed that. You have the potential to move swiftly towards EU membership. Invest in your unity, invest in your democratic institutions, invest in the talent of your people, especially of your young, creative, courageous people, invest in their aspiration and desire to join the European Union. This is added value for you. Believe me, this is added value for us as well. We are not making you a favour, we are making ourselves a favour. There is a new atmosphere in the country and this is recognised in Brussels and everywhere inside the European Union. Let me conclude by saying it is time to start running. Run together, among yourselves, with your neighbors and we, I am sure, we will go very far together. Thank you very much.
Link to the video:https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I154111