The Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council will be remembered with the words "future, chance, European perspective, connectivity in the Balkans". This was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva in front of the participants in the plenary meeting of the Conference of the Committees on European Affairs of the EU Parliaments in Sofia. The Forum is the closing event of the Parliamentary Dimension of the Bulgarian Presidency.
Ekaterina Zaharieva was a keynote speaker on "Integration and Connectivity of the Western Balkans - a new impetus to the EU Enlargement Policy".
“I firmly believe that the recipe for a secure and stable EU includes secure and stable Balkans”, stated Ekaterina Zaharieva. “This is why the efforts of the Bulgarian Presidency were aimed at unblocking the process related to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries”, she said. “In terms of connectivity, however, there is still a lot to be done and it is not by chance that exactly this topic was among the main ones at the Sofia Summit”, underlined the Minister of Foreign Affairs. “We are talking about connectivity not only in the physical sense, but also between business, young people, and scientists”, added Ekaterina Zaharieva and clarified that a very important part of connectivity is security, law enforcement, the fight against organized crime and corruption.
“We are proud to have brought the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries to the forefront of the EU agenda”, Ekaterina Zaharieva stressed. “The Bulgarian Presidency is making efforts for the adoption of the General Affairs Council conclusions this year; for a decision to start negotiations with Macedonia, as well as for a positive tone and a recommendation for Albania”, she declared. Ekaterina Zaharieva called on the representatives of the national parliaments in the EU to support the European aspirations of the citizens of Macedonia.
“In our region it is time for friendship, prosperity and reconciliation from now on”, emphasized Ekaterina Zaharieva. She pointed out that the Treaty between Bulgaria and Macedonia has given a positive boost to the whole region and indicated that the level of support for it among Macedonian citizens is about 70 percent.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov, noted that his homeland is passing through days and weeks that would remain in history. “We cannot change geography and history, but maybe we can change our future”, he said, adding that this was done the day before with the signing of the Treaty with Greece, as an investment in friendship. “Somewhat we owe this to the support of our Bulgarian friends, which was provided to us through the contacts and political leadership of the Prime Minister Borissov and Minister Zaharieva”, stated Nikola Dimitrov and added that the Bulgarian EU Presidency has placed the Western Balkans in the spotlight. In his words, the migration crisis in 2015-2016 had shown that the security of this region was an integral part of the common European security.
“We have been at the door of NATO and the EU for many years and we want to finally find the key to open it”, stressed the Foreign Minister of FYROM. “We do not want a European membership tomorrow because we are not ready yet, but we want access to the best reform tool and that is the accession process”, he added. “I appeal to you for help in order to use the historic opportunity that we have created”, added the Foreign Minister. Nikola Dimitrov informed that a referendum would be held after the end of summer. “Today the government has adopted a draft law on the ratification of the name and the strategic partnership with Athens” he concluded.
The Chairman of the Committee on European Affairs of the Croatian Parliament Domagoj Milosevic thanked the Bulgarian Presidency for turning the attention to the Western Balkans and the Enlargement Policy. He said that in the first half of 2020 Croatia would hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU and this would certainly be among its priorities. Connectivity should not replace enlargement, Domagoj Milosevic stressed. He identified three major challenges for the EU - external migration, internal migration and socio-economic development.
“Our common goal must be EU Membership for the Western Balkan countries, of course, based on fulfilment of the criteria”, said the Chairman of the Croatian Parliament's Committee on European Affairs. “The sooner these countries join us, the better, not only for the eastern part of the EU but also for the whole Union”, he added. “If we agree that the integration and connectivity of these countries is important to us, then we should not hesitate to support them financially, institutionally and with infrastructure”, Domagoj Milosevic noted. In his words, “the accession process and the EU membership are not goals in themselves, they are means of building strong economies and institutions, and this process does not stop after the accession, but rather vice versa”.