Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic

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Jan Lipavský
Photo: © MZV ČR / MFA CZ
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Minister Lipavsky's article for the macedonian newspaper Sloboden Pečat


“A friend in need is a friend indeed,” says a popular proverb. Since 24 February 2022, this proverb is particularly being put to test as Ukraine faces the terrible consequences of the unprecedented and brutal Russian aggression. On a daily basis, innocent men, women and children are killed by deliberate attacks on the Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and the territorial integrity of a peaceful country without any territorial pretensions towards its neighbours is being continuously violated.

Our three countries, as well as your country, have provided Ukraine with the much needed political, humanitarian and military support. We all have provided temporary home to countless Ukrainian refugees and imposed sanctions against the aggressor. We have demonstrated that we uphold the international law and the fundamental principles of humanity which are so intrinsically embedded in the Western culture.

We, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Slavkov cooperation, i. e. Austria, Czechia and Slovakia, are proud of having North Macedonia, a future EU member, as a friend and ally. We are coming to visit North Macedonia with a mandate from the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, to commend your country’s actions vis-à-vis the Russian aggression and to express our full support on your path towards membership in the EU.

Developments over the past year have shown how important it is to be united in upholding international law and defending our common values. We therefore highly appreciate North Macedonia’s full alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and its stance as a most reliable partner of the EU in multilateral fora, notably as OSCE Chair 2023.
Alignment with the CFSP is an important test. It shows how much we have in common and what we can expect from each other in times of need. In the course of your accession negotiations, we will continue to insist that this be taken into consideration.

We are aware that the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine also comes at a cost for North Macedonia, which has to be borne by all citizens of your country, including trade losses or hybrid attacks. Therefore, the European Union is committed to continuing its assistance to North Macedonia in dealing with the repercussions. Just like Ukraine, North Macedonia has friends in need.

With a ghastly military conflict at its doorstep, it may sometimes seem that the EU’s focus, including on future enlargement, has shifted towards Eastern Europe and at the expense of the Western Balkans. However, this would be an erroneous conclusion.

First, there is no trade-off between South-East and East. More attention to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia doesn’t mean less attention to Western Balkan countries, aspiring for EU membership. Only last year, the EU agreed to start accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania by holding the first intergovernmental conferences, granted candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina and approved the visa liberalisation with Kosovo. In June 2023, EU leaders reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the EU perspective of the Western Balkans.

Second, a number of EU initiatives have been launched with the aim of mitigating the consequences of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. There is the EU’s Energy Support Package worth 1 billion EUR to address the energy crisis in the region and help your energy transition. There is the option of common purchases of gas, LNG and hydrogen, as well as the planned reduction of roaming costs between the EU and the Western Balkan countries which should take effect later this year. Moreover, the President of the European Commission announced at the 2023 Globsec Bratislava Forum a new support plan for the Western Balkans which would further align the region with EU’s single market, deepen regional economic integration, accelerate key reforms and boost pre-accession funding.

Finally, our three countries continue advocating for the concept of accelerated integration which enables all candidate countries’ deeper involvement in the sectors and EU policies for which they have already met all necessary requirements. This means a step-by-step approach, a gradual integration which will bring more tangible benefits to your citizens even before the full entry of North Macedonia into the EU. Easier access to the EU’s internal market could be a good example. We will also advocate for an enhanced dialogue between the EU and Western Balkan Countries, i.e. through more regular sessions to exchange views on issues of common interest.

However, we need your cooperation and partnership as well. It is crucial for your country to continue the reform process that has already promisingly started and to prevent any backsliding in what has been achieved so far.

North Macedonia has made enormous efforts in terms of promoting good neighbourly relations and living in linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity. We commend both the current government and its predecessors for their moderate but deliberate approach. The Prespa Agreement with Greece as well as the Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighbourliness and Cooperation with Bulgaria serve as clear expressions of the sincere wish of the citizens of North Macedonia to be part of the EU family.

Now it is essential to continue working on implementing these achievements and goals. We are fully convinced that the adoption of the envisaged constitutional changes will pave the way towards the opening of the first clusters of accession negotiations and bring North Macedonia closer to EU membership. We ask all political actors to put the EU path of your country on top of their priorities, by leaving party politics behind. They can be the enablers of the greater good, by reaffirming the diversity of your nation once more. We – as representatives of countries with a long and at times complex history – understand that minority issues can be politically difficult and can lead to tensions. Nevertheless, they can be overcome by not looking back but rather ahead, towards a joint European future.

We understand there might be a feeling of disappointment due to the length of your country’s accession process. You need to bear in mind that the improvement in the lives of our citizens did not come abruptly on the day of our countries’ entry into the EU. It is a continuous process which had started by handing in the membership application and has continued ever since.

North Macedonia is not alone. You have friends who understand your needs and wishes and who will do their utmost to help you join the EU. You are part of the EU family. And that’s why we are in Skopje today.