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Skopje, 13 September 2018
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Mr Prime Minister [of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev], first of all let me say how happy I am to be again with you, with the Deputy Prime Minister [for European Affairs Bujar Osmani], with the Foreign Minister [Nikola Dimitrov], with so many of your citizens, in Skopje, this time in heart of your beautiful capital.
And let me say how proud I am to be here today, the very same day when you addressed for the first time ever the European Parliament, where you received a standing ovation when describing the future perspective of your country. As you said in Strasbourg, where I had the pleasure of welcoming you, that you felt at home, let me say that I feel at home here, because we share the same home which is Europe.
Like for you, also for me the horizons are very clear: your place is inside the European Union. We want to see you move forward, with the same vision and the same enthusiasm that you have personally, and also together with your government, always shown.
With political courage, with leadership and with responsibility, you have worked – and are continuing to work – tirelessly to bridge gaps, overcome historic difficulties and achieve breakthroughs. I know how big this investment is, for you personally and for your government.
This courage, this leadership, this responsibility culminated in the historical moment when the whole of Europe saluted the name agreement with Greece. But more than that, that moment reconfirmed the power of diplomacy and dialogue in Southeast Europe. It also became a very powerful inspiration for the Western Balkans' region and beyond.
I was personally privileged enough, I was honoured, I was proud to attend, together with Commissioner [for Neighbourhood Negotiations and the European Neighbourhood Policy, Johannes] Hahn, the signing ceremony that you and Prime Minister [of Greece, Alexis] Tsipras, together with your governments, organised at the beautiful Lake Prespa.
At the same time, your country has also managed to secure very good progress on the path towards the European Union. This is an achievement for the whole society, the government and the opposition alike. I was also proud to recognise this, speaking at the Parliament, together with you [Zoran Zaev] last time I visited here to pass this message, that unity in this country is bringing results for all.
You made progress, results in a way that was unimaginable only one year and a half ago, and the European Union responded to that. The Council in June set out a clear way forward towards the opening of accession negotiations in June next year. To walk in this direction is again a responsibility for all in the country: the President, the Government, the opposition, the citizens of the country.
My message to your citizens – all of them – today is this: remember that on the 30 of September when you go and vote at the referendum, you hold the keys to the future of your country. It is in your hands, and only in your hands, and nobody else can do it for you. And you cannot afford to stay silent and miss the opportunity to express yourself on what kind of future you want for your country.
These are not elections, and this is not about politics. You want to make sure that when you wake up on Monday 1 October, you can be proud of the choice you have made for your country, yourself and for your children – no regrets.
To conclude, my message, the message of the European Union here is this: the doors of the European Union are open for you. First of all, because we know that together we can achieve a lot - and you, Mr Prime Minister [Zoran Zaev] reminded us today in Strasbourg how much we can do together for all our people, for our prosperity, our security and our stability. Our doors are open, you hold the keys; our side is determined; let us try to make this commitment work. Once and for all you have a historic opportunity in your hands.
Thank you once again for your personal commitment, for the work and the commitment of the entire government, starting from the Deputy Prime Minister [Bujar Osmani] and the Foreign Minister [Nikola Dimitrov] and also thanks to you and to your citizens for a wonderful warm welcome in the heart of your wonderful capital that is a capital of Europe.
Question on referendum
It is not my role to enter into domestic politics, neither here nor in any of our Member States. But it is my responsibility and, I believe, my institutional duty to invite all to take the opportunity to use the instruments of democracy and express whatever position they have, be it in favour or against the agreement. Democracy is precious. This region knows it well. And whenever you are called to express yourself and participate in the shaping of the future of your country, you should use it. It is more difficult and it is impossible to complain about whatever happens later, if you do not take your responsibility in the moment when you are called to do it.
I hope that the citizens of the country will take that possibility to express themselves. As I said, I am not indicating or entering into the definition of inviting for voting one side or the other, but what I am saying is this: For too many years, this country has been waiting outside the doors. I know very well the sense of frustration you have accumulated in these years, and we know very well that now we are in a different place. Now, the European Union is telling you: the doors are open; you have in your hands the possibility of solving the name issue that has been standing in the way for so long. It is up to you.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I160340