Like all other countries in the Western Balkans, North Macedonia has a prospect of joining the European Union – as was expressly stated by the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003. North Macedonia has been a candidate country since 2005 and it was in 2009 that the European Commission first recommended that accession negotiations be opened.
Milestones in relations between the EU and North Macedonia
North Macedonia applied for EU membership on 22 March 2004. Recognising the progress the country had made in implementing the Ohrid Framework Agreement and the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, the European Council granted it candidate country status at its meeting on 15/16 December 2005.
The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU entered into force on 1 April 2004. The EU and North Macedonia had already been cooperating in the context of the stabilisation and association process since the year 2000. The transition to the second phase of SAA implementation (including the further liberalisation of movement of capital), first recommended by the EU Commission in October 2009, is currently stalled because of unresolved domestic issues.
Back in 1997, the then European Community (EC) and North Macedonia signed a Cooperation Agreement and an agreement on trade and transport aimed at fostering economic and political cooperation.
The European Commission first recommended that accession negotiations with the country be launched in its progress report of November 2009.The recommendation that accession negotiations be launched was repeated every year until 2014; however, the Council did not vote on the matter in this period, not least owing to the possibility that Greece would veto any decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia due to the controversial issue of the country’s name. In its report of 10 November 2015, the Commission declared that it was prepared to extend the recommendation, but only once the Macedonian parties had managed to resolve the current domestic political crisis.
Since March 2012, the European Commission has been conducting a High-Level Accession Dialogue with the Government of North Macedonia aimed at driving forward reform in accession-relevant sectors.
A visa facilitation agreement entered into force in December 2009, under which citizens of North Macedonia may visit the EU for tourist purposes for up to 90 days without needing a visa.
EU support for North Macedonia on the path to accession
Since 2007, North Macedonia has been receiving financial support under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). This means it is able to call on a total of around 664 million euros for the 2014-2020 period.
The measures financed concern, first and foremost, the promotion of democracy, good governance, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights, protection of the environment and climate change mitigation, improved transport infrastructure, competitiveness, as well as education, employment and social policies. Moreover, the EU is supporting agriculture and rural development, as well as cooperation in the region.