Commissioner for EU Enlargement Johannes Hahn gave an interview for Nezavisen Vesnik in which he urged President Gjorge Ivanov not to interfere in ongoing judicial proceedings, instructing him indirectly to forget about amnesty. Hahn also hopes that the Prespa Agreement will not be sacrificed for party-political reasons given that it is part of the campaign for the presidential election. According to him, it will be irresponsible if the EU does not fulfill the promises it has made, including the promises to our country.
Commissioner Hahn, for the first time North Macedonia has credible reforms. Yet, we are not sure whether we will get a date for negotiations in June, after the decision was postponed last June. What will happen now?
-First of all, the European Commission will publish the countries reports by the end of May. If North Macedonia keeps up its reform efforts – and I have no doubt about it – this visible progress as well as the historic breakthrough of the Prespa Agreement will be clearly reflected in our assessment. Following this, it is up to member states to take a decision, which will be hopefully positive and at the earliest possible date, i.e. at the June Council.
What are the reasons that some countries still have reservations about North Macedonia? What will be your arguments, as you intend to recommend start of the negotiations, as I understood? What this decision will mean for the country?
-Indeed, it is well-known that some countries have reservations – as we could see already in June last year. But I hope that in the meantime member states had the opportunity to witness that the government in Skopje is delivering on substantial reforms such as the establishment of the anti-corruption agency, in the area of judiciary where the SPO law is in process and on media freedom, just to mention three key reform priorities. The government is also reaching out to the opposition, the civil society and to the different ethnic groups of the society which is important for a well-functioning democracy.
I am doing the widest out-reach possible with member states on the basis of well-founded arguments: first of all, the accession process cannot be a one-way street. If our partner countries deliver on reforms, EU Member States have to deliver, too, by taking the accession process to the next stage. Sticking to our commitment is a question of the EU’s credibility. Secondly, the EU integration of the Western Balkans is in the Union’s very own interest: it is about creating stability, prosperity as well as democratic and inclusive societies in our immediate neighbourhood. The EU perspective is a key driver of reforms. Thirdly, it would be irresponsible if the EU did not deliver on its promises. Not only because this might lead to a back-sliding of reforms, but because our competitors in the region, such as China, Turkey, Russia, who have different values, might take advantage from our hesitation and increase their influence. If the EU really wants to become a global player, we have to integrate the Western Balkans and join forces in tackling common challenges such as migration, climate-change and organized crime.
Why Macedonia is still in the same package with Albania? Is it possible that EU countries don’t see the differences in the situation here and in Albania?
-It is a principle of the EU accession process, as repeated in our Western Balkans strategy adopted last year, that we are assessing the countries on the basis of their individual merits. This individual progress will certainly be reflected in the country reports.
What is still necessary to be done for you to have strong recommendation for the negotiations? Will be that possible without the decision about the SPO’s term or without elected president?
–I think it is important that the reform efforts are kept up till the very last and that the Presidential elections are conducted in a free and fair way. I commend the agreement between the candidates to stick to this.
There are requests for new amnesty from President Ivanov again for the 27 April case, and probably for other cases connected to corruption. What will be your message about this idea?
–As on previous similar occasions, I can just advise the outgoing President not to interfere with ongoing judicial procedures.
The opposition refuses to implement the Prespa Agreement and are promising during the campaign that they will try to change it. Will this influence the integration of our country in EU? Do you think is possible for the country to get NATO membership and EU negotiations and after that not to implement the agreement, as some people think?
–The Prespa Agreement is an achievement of historic dimensions, acknowledged by the international community. It sends the positive signal to the whole region that reconciliation in the Western Balkans is possible with political leadership and orientation towards the future. I hope that this achievement will not be sacrificed for party political reasons. It is in the country’s interest that this achievement is irreversible as well as the reforms made in key priority areas. It is time for the Western Balkans political leaders to think in long-term strategic terms, i.e. what is the best for their countries and citizens instead of following party political considerations.
Will be there a new commissioner for enlargement in the new EC, will Turkey be there and what changes do you expect after the EU elections?
–I believe that even if there will be a wider spectrum of parties in the new EP there will be a clear majority of pro-European forces. And this will guarantee institutional continuity. Given the political importance of the EU integration of the Western Balkans and the progress made over the last years, this process will certainly continue, including with a Commissioner in charge of Enlargement negotiations. As for Turkey, the ball is now clearly in Turkey’s court to prove its commitment to European values.