Once our partners fulfill the clear criteria we have set, the EU also needs to live up to its commitment and take the accession process of North Macedonia to the next stage. Credit where credit is due! That is a matter of EU credibility, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn tells MIA in an interview…
Your statement in the AFET committee about the start of negotiations was interpreted in various ways in the country and in the region, because you said that it will be a “preparatory stage”, can you clarify your statement?
My line has always been very clear: The European Commission plans to present its country reports at the end of May. Based on the significant progress made, I am very confident that we can table a positive report and clear recommendation to open accession negotiations for Skopje. Following this, it is up to Member States to take the decision. Once our partners fulfill the clear criteria we have set, the EU also needs to live up to its commitment and take the accession process of North Macedonia to the next stage. Credit where credit is due! That is a matter of EU credibility.
What I specifically referred to in a recent AFET meeting is the normal preparatory stage AFTER the Council’s green light. Obviously, accession negotiations will not start overnight. After the Council decision, both sides have to establish the so called negotiation framework and set up the Inter-governmental conference. This is the usual procedure for all candidate countries alike, It is known to our partners and there are by no means any delays or “additional steps or requirements” in this process.
Are there any risks that enlargement will not be on the agenda at the June GAC and that it would be postponed to the autumn, which would then mean that there will be no opportunity to give a date for the start of negotiations to NM in June?
The agenda-setting for the Councils is in the hands of the EU Presidency. I have always advocated to have this important debate – and hopefully decision – for North Macedonia taken at the earliest opportunity, i.e. the June General Affairs Council.
The opposition says that there are no chances that North Macedonia will get a date for a start of the negotiations. According to them, the situation is unenviable, the judiciary is not independent, the administration is politicized, the government is corrupt, the media are not free, etc… To what extent does the Commission share the opposition’s views on the situation in the country?
I am not commenting individual statements. Our reports are objective assessments based on facts. As mentioned already, North Macedonia has made significant and visible progress in many areas. The Prespa Agreement is a historic breakthrough. If the reform dynamic is kept up, which I expect, the country report will speak a clear language.
There has been some criticism in the country regarding the level of preparedness of the future negotiating teams and working groups, do you have an advice to the country as a country that is preparing to start negotiations in this regard?
I think that every candidate country is well-advised to set up the negotiation teams in time and equip them with the best experts. The quality of these teams will be decisive for the good progress of negotiations.
Are there still countries reluctant to start negotiations with North Macedonia in June, and what is the Commission doing to overcome this?
The EU is facing challenging times with the EU elections and Brexit, to mention just two of them. That binds political attention, which is normal. It is therefore important to communicate the EU’s own genuine interest in the continued stepwise enlargement, based on individual merits. The integration of the Western Balkans is an investment in peace, stability and prosperity in our immediate neighbourhood: the European perspective is the main geopolitical driver and incentive for reforms and a guarantee for the gradual alignment of the region with European standards and values. Not living up to this commitment of supporting the Western Balkans’ European perspective, which EU leaders have repeatedly confirmed, to become real, means leaving the region to other players with a different political agenda and different values. This cannot be in the EU’s interest.
I am constantly communicating on all these aspects in my meetings with representatives of Member States and European Parliament as just recently in AFET. But it is clear that the communication about the benefits of the integration of the Western Balkans must have a broader angle and be intensified by governments and civil society in the Member States and Western Balkan countries as well.
Lastly, there is talk of a possible boycott from the opposition at the presidential elections in the second round, how damaging could this be to North Macedonia’s EU path?
As mentioned many times, democracy means constructive cross party cooperation and the ability to compromise. Boycotts are not a sign of democratic maturity. The European perspective of North Macedonia should be regarded as national, strategic goal of all political forces and requires the active and constructive engagement of all political parties as well as of civil society. In this respect I have been reassured by the opposition leader that they will play an active and constructive role in the presidential election and I have no reasons for having any doubts about that.