“I am starting my visit to the region here in North Macedonia to give a clear message – 2020 has been a historic and long-awaited year for your country, which rewarded your determination and resilience to advance on your EU path. And you can count on me to continue to support you in every way I can to further advance the EU accession process”, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Várhelyi stressed in his address (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/varhelyi/announc...) to Parliament in Skopje on 7 October.
The Commissioner reiterated that the future of Western Balkans lies in the EU. “It is in our strategic interest to bring the region closer to the EU, as it is your strategic interest to join the EU”, he said.
Thanks to the revised enlargement methodology, the EC has overcome the deadlock in the Council on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and has proposed negotiating frameworks on which discussions are ongoing. In response to journalists’ questions on bilateral issues with Bulgaria at the press point with PM Zoran Zaev, Várhelyi said: “Let diplomacy work and good neighbourly relations prevail: I trust North Macedonia and Bulgaria will find a solution”. He hopes that the negotiating framework will be agreed soon and the intergovernmental conference will take place by the year-end, during the German Presidency.
Regarding reforms, the Commissioner said that the country had maintained a steady pace of progress and further delivered on key areas of rule of law, including the judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime. “It is important that you keep up this momentum. The fight against corruption needs to continue unabated and further efforts are needed to ensure full respect for the principle of transparency and meritocracy in the Public Administration Reform”. He encouraged Parliament to ensure proper consultations and democratic debates by using normal procedures, as well as checks and balances by strengthening the oversight over the executive and the intelligence services.
During the visit, the Commissioner presented the annual report and the EIP to President Stevo Pendarovski, Speaker Talat Xhaferi and MPs, and the Government.
The EIP aims to spur the long-term recovery of the region through a substantial investment package (9 billion euros) that should lead to sustained economic growth, implementation of reforms, and bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU Single Market. The investment package is structured around key areas - transport, energy, environment, digital, the private sector and youth.
“North Macedonia is very much part of this plan and your citizens and businesses will directly benefit from it. In the area of transport, the Plan includes notably Railway corridor VIII highway (linking up Skopje to Bulgaria). In the area of energy, the Plan includes the North Macedonia - Kosovo and North Macedonia – Serbia Gas interconnectors, which will contribute to North Macedonia’s energy diversification. In addition, the Plan will support renewable energies, including the construction of Wind and Solar Power Plants. Finally, in the crucial area of environment, the Plan focuses on the construction of wastewater treatment plants in Skopje and integrated regional waste management systems. Those major investments will complement existing projects already supported as part of our bilateral assistance, such as the important investments to develop the rail network to enhance connectivity”, said the Commissioner.
The Plan is accompanied by a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, which builds on the European Green Deal. It foresees joint action to tackle the challenges of green transition, climate change, biodiversity loss, and excessive use of resources and pollution... Particular attention will be paid to the EU commitment to reach climate neutrality by 2050.
In Skopje, the Commissioner also met with VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski, stressing the importance of the contribution of all political forces in the acceleration of EU reforms.