Rede von Europa-Staatsminister Michael Roth vor Studierenden der Universität Skopje


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here with you today in Skopje and to have the opportunity to exchange views with you and to learn more about your expectations.

As young citizens, it is also up to you to get involved in shaping the future of your country. It is up to you to move your country forward into a fully functioning democratic society that provides its citizens with stability and prosperity. And it is up to you to bring your country closer to membership in the European Union.

I have come here to Skopje with the following key messages:

First: The door to the European Union is open to your country. It is up to you to determine the speed of the accession process. If you deliver on the reform agenda, the European Union will also deliver on its promises.

Second: Your country needs the European Union. And the European Union needs you – especially these days. We are committed to cooperating closely on the migration issue. But this does not mean that there will be any political rebate for the negotiations on EU accession.

Third: The political crisis in your country needs to be solved immediately. Our expectations are clear, as there is a political agreement on the table. There is only very limited time left to implement the measures needed to hold fair and orderly elections in April.

I know that many of you showed courage and commitment when you took to the streets of Skopje and other Macedonian cities to make yourself heard by the political institutions.

I urge you, as leaders of tomorrow, to hold your political leaders accountable so that no more precious time is wasted. The domestic crisis has already slowed down progress in your country for too long.

The negative trend in democratic governance has been visible for quite some time. Back in 2014, the European Commission spelled out its concerns about a decline in freedom of the media and independence of the judiciary. In 2015, the Commission warned once again that the country was backsliding in the fields of the rule of law and freedom of the media. These shortcomings were not addressed by the Government. And during the wiretapping affair, even more wrongdoings were revealed.

You deserve more! It is crucial that political leaders finally understand that the country’s future is at stake here. They must stick wholeheartedly to the agreed process. Otherwise, they risk the elections not taking place in line with European standards.

Our shared hope was to bring the crisis to an end with the help of the Pržino Agreement, which identifies urgent reform priorities, including systemic flaws in the rule of law, breaches of fundamental rights, threats to judicial independence and media freedom, corruption issues and the inappropriate politicisation of state institutions.

However, the implementation of the Agreement and the reforms are currently far from where they should be. Many deadlines and opportunities have been missed.

The work of the Special Public Prosecutor has been obstructed several times, media reforms have not even begun and the revision of the electoral register should also have started months ago.

The parliamentary inquiry committee is not functioning the way it should in a democratic country. The parliamentary supervisory committees dealing with the control of the intelligence services and phone-tapping have not yet started their important work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The full implementation of the Pržino Agreement would also leave us in a good position to revitalise the Macedonian EU integration process. In last year’s country report, the European Commission announced its willingness to extend the recommendation to open accession negotiations if the Agreement is implemented.

I know that the path to EU membership is long, hard and exhausting. And I understand that you might even feel frustrated. It is your right to be impatient. But at the same time, it also your obligation to speak up and be part of this process.

We are talking about changes that demand a lot from governments, but also from citizens. The negotiations are much more than a technical process for political elites and legal experts. Becoming a member of the European Union is a project for society as a whole! We need a strong and active civil society to make the accession negotiations a success. I am counting on your support!

As Europeans, we have learned our lessons from previous enlargement rounds. The accession criteria need to be met in full before a country can join the EU. The EU must pursue an enlargement policy that is based on clear, strict and fair accession criteria.

There is a good reason why the chapters on democracy and the rule of law are now at the heart of the accession process. The EU is not only a common market. It is first and foremost a union of values.

It is true that democracy, the rule of law and good governance do not automatically follow with the end of an old regime. And holding free and democratic elections is only the very first step. But the hard part is yet to come, namely to embed democratic values, the rule of law and the principles of good governance deeply into your nation’s DNA.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What is particularly sad is that your country was once the most advanced country in the Western Balkans as regards the accession process. Each year from 2009 to 2014, the European Commission concluded that it had fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria sufficiently to recommend opening accession negotiations.

Unfortunately, in all those years, it was not possible to follow this recommendation with a Council decision – but only because of the name issue with Greece. I know you are annoyed by this and believe me, I am annoyed too! To be frank, I do not see this as the most pressing issue at the moment.

But some steps towards settling the name dispute have recently been taken by the Greek and the Macedonian governments. Both Foreign Ministers decided to enhance good neighbourly relations.

This is a promising sign. Confidence-building measures can be important first steps towards a political solution, for which we all have been waiting for so long. It should be possible to find a name that is acceptable to both countries! If these efforts are successful, then there is also hope that progress can be made as regards a Council decision on beginning accession negotiations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Germany and its EU partners have shown their commitment to moving forward with the enlargement process for the Western Balkan countries. We will continue to support EU accession prospects for all Western Balkan countries as soon as the accession criteria are met. The EU has a transformative power and is a catalyst for reforms.

And working together in Europe is still the best answer we have as regards addressing the challenges of our globalised world.

The migration issue reveals how important it is to work together. Our countries are cooperating closely, and we highly support your country’s efforts to deal with the migration flows. In particular, we are glad to see that your authorities are doing what they can to fully register all migrants in transit. For the sake of the people fleeing from war and bombs and seeking a safe haven in Europe, your country has shown its willingness to take its part in addressing this challenge.

As for the future, close communication and cooperation between all countries along the so-called Western Balkan route remain vital to successfully managing the migration flows.

We are well aware of the pressure these flows are putting on your country, as well as on other countries. And Germany is willing to support your country by means of humanitarian assistance, as is the European Union.

But let me be clear, this does not mean there will be a political rebate when it comes to the agreed political solutions to the political crisis and the criteria for EU accession.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All of you are not only part of a promising young generation in your country – above all, you also clearly look towards Europe. That is good news because the EU needs more people who firmly believe in the European project – especially in times of crisis! Many hopes rest on you in your country, and I am particularly happy to have the opportunity to talk with you today.

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