Resolving the name dispute is not the sole requirement for opening EU accession talks; the focus should be placed on reforms, and not on snap elections, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said in an interview.
While holding snap elections is the country’s sovereign decision, Hahn said, he disagrees it’s the right moment for them, considering there isn’t much time until the next European Commission report, which is due in spring.
“The country should use the positive momentum created by the Prespa Agreement,” Hahn said, “because we aim to get the decision for opening accession negotiations in summer, and then start the first chapters by the end of the year. “That can only be achieved if everybody is committed to making the necessary progress.
“Now that the name issue is on the right track to being solved thanks to the determination of the leaders and the responsible acting of the lawmakers who voted for it, all efforts must focus on reforms. There is a lot to be done, notably in the area of the rule of law.”
Not only are reforms essential for garnering EU member state support, but they are also in the interest of citizens, who, according to him, need to see the immediate benefits. “I expect all political forces, including the biggest opposition party, to support this process,” said Johannes Hahn.
Starting negotiations with Macedonia is not guaranteed, Hahn said, until the country delivers on the key reforms requested by the EU last June, especially those related to the judiciary, the counterintelligence service, and the fight against corruption.
He said he was aware of people’s criticism of the amnesty process, as well. In his view, serious offenders will face justice.
“I think the initiative of the current government is part of the reconciliation process and is to be welcomed. Of course the rule of law has to be respected and, as far as I know, this is being safeguarded, as this is not a general amnesty. Those who committed serious crimes in the context of these events will be held accountable,” Hahn said.
If Macedonia doesn’t fail to implement reforms, he believes the EU member states will give due credit for the country’s resolving its 27-year name dispute by setting a date for negotiations.
“I hope and I’m almost certain all member states will acknowledge this achievement,” Hahn said. “There aren’t many similar cases in the world where such disputes were resolved by respecting the interests of both sides.”
He added he was convinced the EU would acknowledge this success, provided the historic achievement was coupled with reform efforts.
“Judging from the government’s serious reform commitment, I’m confident the member states will acknowledge the good progress made.
“I always say: ‘If our partner countries deliver, the EU has to deliver, too,’ as the integration of the Western Balkans is in the EU’s own interest,” Hahn told MIA.
Saying the latest developments in Greece shouldn’t prevent the Prespa Agreement from being ratified, Hahn pointed out that the name deal is beneficial for the entire region.
“The decision to be taken by the Greek Parliament this week is, of course, a sovereign decision of Greece,” Hahn said. “But I hope and I’m confident the last step for solving this longstanding issue can be made as many efforts have already been invested.
“This agreement benefits the whole region, including the neighboring EU member states, and especially Greece.”