Statement by Foreign Minister Baerbock prior to her departure for North Macedonia and Georgia
North Macedonia’s place, like that of our other partners in the Western Balkans, is in the European Union. There surely cannot be any more doubt that we are serious about this, certainly not since the official start of accession negotiations with the EU in July 2022. The high hopes and expectations that people in North Macedonia have of the accession process are for us both an opportunity and a risk: a risk, because the people of North Macedonia could be lost to Europe if we as the EU fail to meet their expectations despite all the progress and in some cases painful concessions they have made over the past 17 years. And an opportunity, because everyone involved in the EU enlargement process is aware of what is actually at stake: a future in the European family, a region with stable prosperity and peace, self-determination.
I can well understand that there is currently passionate debate in North Macedonia around issues regarding the country’s own identity, its own history, language and culture. It is no different here, and of course it is particularly to be expected when it comes to fundamental issues such as amendments to the constitution. However, experience shows that in such situations it is worth setting aside party-political calculations, being guided by the clear objective, and fighting resolutely for it. Broad backing for the amendment to the constitution from the parliament of North Macedonia would send a signal not only within the country itself but also into the wider region as a whole: We absolutely want to accede to the EU and for that are doing everything necessary on our part.
The people of Georgia, too, have the EU as a firm goal in their sights. In recent weeks they waved the European flag on the streets of Tbilisi as they demonstrated for the defence of pluralism and the rule of law. During my trip, I want to make it clear that Germany is fully committed to Georgia’s prospect of EU membership. We see the attempts to divert the country from the pro-European course that the overwhelming majority of Georgians want. And we see the pressure being exerted on the country from within and without. I will be talking to the Government in Tbilisi about the steps the country still needs to take in order to acquire candidate status. In addition to compliance with democratic standards, these include, in particular, freedom of the media, the preservation of a vibrant civil society, and respectful public debate – even if standpoints sometimes differ greatly. These values unite us in the European Union, and we strongly believe that there can be no short cuts and no concessions here.