Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, speaking from Thessaloniki where she participated in the Greek initiative “From Thessaloniki to Zagreb”, told her Western Balkan counterparts that Bulgaria’s support for their European integration was ongoing, urging them to keep up with the reforms while calling on the EU countries to keep their promises and kick off the process to greenlight the negotiations with the Republic of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia.
“Do not be discouraged, go forward with the reforms for your citizens, not just for Brussels and for simply fulfilling the mandatory criteria – your citizens deserve to live in a legal, democratic and prosperous state”, Zaharieva told her Western Balkans counterparts during the opening of the Conference.
“According to all the World Bank’s analyses, Western Balkan countries face a greater risk of brain drain”, Zaharieva noted, adding that every government had a duty to work for the well-being of its citizens, including creating conditions for quality education and vocational rehabilitation for young people in order for them to stay in their countries.
Zaharieva sent out a message not only to the candidate countries but also to the European Union countries.
“At this table, everyone talks in one voice. Following the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, once again we organized an enlargement summit during the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council in 2018 and now we are all looking forward to the Zagreb Summit. My call to the other EU Member States is to keep our promises and to give the green light for the negotiations with the Republic of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia to commence. The start of the negotiations does not mean they are over, but they are rather the first few steps on a long way. But if we can’t keep our promises, we better not give them out in the first place”, Zaharieva said.
“My third message is that the new negotiation methodology presented by the European Commission should not be a reason to delay the start of the accession negotiations with the Republic of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia once again”, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister continued.
“The implementation of neighborhood agreements is also very important – it shows the maturity and confidence that, when our neighbors sit with us in councils in Brussels, where very difficult issues are resolved, all open issues with neighbors must be resolved”, said Zaharieva.
Representatives of the European Commission have confirmed that they are backing the view that accession negotiations should start with the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Albania, and this will be the conclusion of the countries’ annual progress reports to be published next week.
“Accession to Europe is the strongest impetus for internal reforms, as well as for ensuring peace, stability, security and prosperity in the Western Balkans”, she stressed in her concluding remarks in the Thessaloniki Conference, underlining how important it was for the EU enlargement to continue to be regarded as one of the Union’s top priorities, recalling the 2000 Zagreb Summit Declaration, the Thessaloniki Agenda 2003 and the Declaration following the 2018 EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia reiterating that the unification of Europe would not be complete without the accession of the countries of the region to the European Union”.
The participants also welcomed the initiatives under the Berlin Process, which this year are being co-chaired by Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia. /ibna