EC’s Juncker kicks off WB tour with visit to FYROM on Feb. 25

EC’s Juncker kicks off WB tour with visit to FYROM on Feb. 25

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker on February 25 will visit F.Y.R.O Macedonia, the first stop of his Western Balkans tour aimed at presenting the EU’s Western Balkans Strategy, Bujar Osmani announced on Thursday.

The F.Y.R.O.M. Deputy PM for European affairs held today in Skopje a news conference to present and offer an in-depth analysis of the messages and the content of the Western Balkans Strategy of the EU, released on Tuesday in Strasbourg.

“This is a crucial moment for presenting the Strategy and also for encouraging the governments to double their efforts so as to meet the newest shortened targets,” Deputy PM Osmani said.

The Strategy, he stated, meets all the expectations of F.Y.R.O Macedonia because it acknowledges the country’s accomplishments in reform implementation, it hints at readiness to be extended a clear recommendation on part of the European Commission for start of negotiations and it foresees a merit-based system for each of the aspiring countries.

“Our country is satisfied with the wording of the Strategy, because it foresees the country, once it opens accession talks, to be able to catch up with the front-runners in the process provided that it produced results. This is what we wished for, because F.Y.R.O Macedonia is the first country  in the region that had launched the process way before Serbia, Montenegro and all the other Western Balkan countries. The country had signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement in 2001, it had become a candidate country in 2005 and it has made a lot of progress in the process of aligning with the EU’s legislation and transforming the society,” Osmani stressed.

He said the European Commission progress report on the country would be released in April 17 noting that he expected the Commission to extend a ‘clean’ recommendation for start of negotiations, the ninth one in the dispute.

As regards the content of the Strategy, what separates the document from all the previous ones is that it sets out obligations not only of the candidate countries, but also of the EU, thus making the enlargement process ‘a two-way street’, according to him.

The annex of the Strategy, Osmani said, contains a list of tasks for the EU designed to prepare the aspirants for membership.

Also, the EU should boost the capacities of its institutions as a preparation to accept new members, ‘to become strong before it gets big.’

Furthermore, it envisages special arrangements and irrevocable obligations aimed at preventing new members from blocking the accession process of other Western Balkan candidates. In turn, the candidate countries are expected to undertake comprehensive reforms in key areas, including rule of law, fundamental rights and governance, economic development, application of the EU rules and standards, and reconciliation and good neighborly relations.

The Strategy’s implementation will be supported financially. In 2018 alone, one billion euros should be awarded to support the process of transformation of the societies of the Western Balkan countries. To that end, the European Commission in March will define the dynamic and allocation of funds for each of the candidate countries.