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Debate on the Progress Reports of Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Statement by State Secretary Janez Lenarčič on behalf of the EU Council

European Parliament

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

First, I would like to congratulate the Honourable Members of Parliament, Mr Hannes Swoboda and Mr. Erik Meijer, for their progress reports on Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We are also pleased that the European Parliament has included a debate on the progress of both countries in its plenary session agenda. The Slovenian Presidency attaches great importance to the European integration of the Western Balkan countries.

In this regard let me recall that EU Foreign Ministers who gathered for their informal Gymnich meeting in late March sent a positive message to the Western Balkan region on its European perspective. We estimate that such a message is most welcome in this very challenging period for Croatia.



Regarding accession negotiations with Croatia, I would like to stress that they are carried out according to plans. We agree with an assessment by the Honourable Member of Parliament Swoboda that Croatia has made substantial progress in meeting the requirements of the accession process in the past two years. Sixteen chapters out of 35 have been opened, two of which have been provisionally closed. Two Accession Conferences with Croatia are foreseen for April and June, and if Croatia successfully meets the requirements for opening new chapters, some will be opened at these two Accession Conferences.

The Slovenian Presidency is fully committed to bringing forward the EU enlargement process and to further progress in accession negotiations. Allow me to underline that the pace of negotiations depends mainly on the candidate country and its progress in consistently fulfilling the conditions. These were set in the Negotiating Framework and the revised Accession Partnership which was adopted by the Council in February this year, and in other acts.

Despite the significant progress made by Croatia in the past two years, there is still a lot of work ahead of us. As mentioned in a report by the Honourable Member of Parliament Swoboda, in future increased attention must be paid to further transposition and effective implementation of the acquis communautaire. Croatia needs to continue its endeavours to meet the accession conditions and to achieve more considerable progress. On this point, I would like to underline in particular the judicial and administrative reforms, the fight against corruption, economic reforms, minority rights, refugee return and full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

It is also essential that Croatia continues its efforts towards good neighbourly relations. This includes, among other things, endeavours to find a satisfactory solution to open bilateral issues with neighbouring countries.



Dear Members of the European Parliament,

Allow me to now address the subject of progress in relation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. As highlighted by the Honourable Member of the European Parliament Erik Meijer in his report, it is the only country which has had candidate status since 2005 but which has not yet started accession negotiations. We believe that, subject to the fulfilment of the set conditions, this situation should be overcome this year.

Thus, the key message of the European Commission’s March Communication on the Western Balkans was that the autumn progress report could be favourable, provided that the country implemented the major priorities identified by the Association Partnership without delay. This could make fixing a date for opening accession negotiations by the end of 2008 possible. The said message was reaffirmed in the statement by the Presidency on the occasion of the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers held in Slovenia at the end of March.  

We must not forget that the country in question has so far proven that it plays an important role by contributing to stability in the region. The EU is bound to recognise this role and, by giving positive signals, to encourage the FYROM to maintain this constructive role in the region and to proceed with its reform efforts. One such positive signal is undoubtedly the launch of the dialogue on visa liberalisation.

Rapporteur Meijer is right in his statement that Skopje has been increasingly recognising the multi-ethnic character of the state. This has been confirmed by the consistent implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, especially in the field of decentralisation and representation of ethnic minorities in the public administration. We hope that further progress can be achieved as soon as possible, by resolving some issues of crucial importance for the Albanian community (e.g. the use of the Albanian language and symbols).

The Slovenian Presidency calls upon all political parties to strengthen political dialogue and inter-ethnic cooperation, with the aim of achieving the next step in the EU-integration process as early as this year.

Allow me to express our deep regret that the recent negotiations on the name issue brought no desired solution. Furthermore, we are disappointed that the FYROM has not received an invitation for NATO. Considering that the country has made every effort to obtain such an invitation, we hope that it could soon join the other two candidate countries that were more successful in this regard.

In its Declaration after the NATO summit, the Slovenian Presidency called upon the country to proceed with and bring to an end the negotiations on the name issue, regardless of the Bucharest decision. It invited all political leaders to preserve the consensus reached on the country's European and Euro-Atlantic future. At the same time, it recommended the FYROM to make good use of the time remaining until the Commission's regular autumn progress report.

Thank you very much.

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Date: 11.04.2008