Hahn: We would like to conclude this preparatory work by summer next year

European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn on the second day of the explanatory screening between the European Commission and Macedonia said that the beginning of this process sends a “strong signal of the EU’s commitment and the credibility of the enlargement process to the entire region.”

“We have an ambitious calendar, Hahn said, “but we would like to […] conclude this preparatory work by summer next year in order to go on, as foreseen and agreed, with the next step,” i.e., officially start EU accession talks.

“Our relations have entered a decisive phase,” Hahn said. “This is a process that will empower you to carry out the reforms necessary to become one day a member of our big European family.

“There is a lot of hard work ahead of us, but I am confident that we can make it together.”

Commissioner Hahn added that the EC has “established an ambitious roadmap, which paves the way to go from now until next September through 160,000 pages of EU legislation.”

In June of this year, Macedonia and Albania received a tentative date for beginning accession negotiations. The conditions both countries need to meet have to do with the rule of law.

The immediate start of the screening process, according to Hahn, highlights the fact that the EC is not wasting time and “shows the Commission’s very strong engagement to accompany both countries in their reform efforts and to turn their EU integration perspective into a very concrete reality.”

No other candidate countries have so far attended preparatory meetings before being greenlighted for negotiations.

The screening process takes up to a year and a half before negotiations on various chapters begin.

In his closing remarks addressed to Macedonia’s and Albania’s negotiation teams, the EU Commissioner reiterated that these preparatory meetings were “proof of EU’s strong commitment to the whole process.”

“I think you are now fully aware of the complexity of this exercise,” Hahn said, “to prepare the opening of negotiations.

“It’s a very tough calendar for the next couple of months—not years, but months—and we intend to ask for a green light to start negotiations in June or July next year.

“This is an ambitious date because a lot of preparatory work has to be done. Usually, in our experience, it takes one to one and a half years, but now we aim to have it within a year.”

“It is ambitious, but we count on you,” Hahn told the two delegations, adding that he counts on “our [the EC’s] services to be very much committed and dedicated to this project” as well.

Hahn also said that “the whole process is merit-based” and that it encourages “positive competition in the region.”

He requested from all civil servants to better communicate with the public. He said he was aware people were resistant to the EU because it was perceived as “a block that always asks for reforms.”

“It’s very human [to be] resistant,” he said, “if you always have to face reforms – because reform means you don’t know what exactly is behind the next corner. So many people believe it’s better not to have too many reforms.”

Also, “there are others,” Hahn said, “who try to meddle in our process by quasi-presenting alternatives meaning ‘everything is fine, there’s no need to change anything’ etc., etc.”

The need of reform is not always perceived well, Hahn added, but “we have to find a language to reach our citizens and explain what we are doing” and “communicate what the benefits and positive consequences are” regarding each improvement along the way to EU membership.

“Please tell people about the first positive results in terms of the impact on their living conditions,” Hahn said, adding that the EU also needs to communicate its own interests, namely “exporting stability, economic opportunities, and peace and prosperity.”

During the joint press conference with the EU Commissioner in Brussels on Friday, Vice-premier for European Affairs and chief political negotiator Bujar Osmani thanked Hahn and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini for their support in Macedonia’s EU integration process.

“Macedonia has been writing history these couple of days,” Osmani said, adding that the largest state delegation he has headed so far has, over the past two days, been thoroughly reviewing, together with the EC, Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights.

“Macedonia is irreversibly moving towards full EU membership, and there is no going back,” Osmani said