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April 23, 2020
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May 11, 2020

Ilhan Kyuchyuk: The door to North Macedonia is already open

In an interview on the Macedonian TV channel Sitel on Monday, March 27th, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that Bulgaria has always been supporting North Macedonia’s membership to the European Union. However, he did not give a specific answer as to whether our country could block the accession of Northern Macedonia to the Union, but insisted on the continuation of the work of the Bulgarian-Macedonian commission which should clear up the controversial historical issues.

What is your comment on the topic and what do you think could happen if North Macedonia rejects the framework position of Bulgaria, setting the conditions for a final “yes”?

The representatives of the European institutions have always insisted that the Treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia, as well as the Prespa Agreement with the Hellenic Republic, must be respected. This has always been the official position of Skopje as well. In all discussions, the two documents are highlighted as a success of the Macedonian foreign policy, opening the country’s path to NATO and the EU. Bulgaria and North Macedonia are neighboring, friendly countries, sharing a common history, and I believe, a common future within the EU. Historical issues should be left in the hands of the historians. If we as politicians however, do not do our part of what is necessary to continue this path, then history will judge us.

My task as EP Standing rapporteur is with my experience and knowledge to help the Republic of North Macedonia become a member of the EU at some point. And this is in the best interest for all of us.

The commission in question was blocked by the Macedonian part in December over the early elections in April, and has so far made almost no progress. In your opinion, could it be expected that the work of the commission be resumed and completed successfully?

I sincerely believe that this will happen. After all, in the end, political decisions will have to be made on the basis of historical issues that are controversial. This does not exclude the recognition of some obvious truths and facts by both parties. Let’s not forget that we also have a historical memory that is still vital.

On 24 March, the European Council decided to open negotiations for the accession of North Macedonia to the European Union. This is part of a lengthy process that began in 2003. However, in October it was hampered after France, Denmark and the Netherlands blocked the procedure. What do you think were the real motives of these countries and why was consensus reached only a few months later?

Although enlargement has been the Union’s most successful policy in recent years, it has not been unequivocally accepted in some Western European societies. The countries you have listed, led by France, insisted on seeing a negotiation process that is much more dynamic and results-oriented. One of their proposals was to have horizontal monitoring of the rule of law, i.e. from the beginning of the negotiation process to its very end. As well as the possibility for each cluster (negotiation chapter – according to the old wording) to be reopened in case of backtracking. This eliminates the principle “once closed, a cluster is closed forever”. I see other progressive elements in the new methodology – the earlier involvement of countries in EU policies, their participation in the Conference on the future of Europe. The green light to start accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, showed that Europe is capable of taking important decisions in times of crisis. Moreover, the European Union acted swiftly and decisively towards the region, including it in many of the EU’s initiatives to combat COVID-19 and allocating an unprecedented 3.3 billion to that end.

Could you explain a bit the work of the European Parliament regarding the process of accession of North Macedonia to the EU in addition to what is being done at government level. How does the European Parliament interact with governments and has it suffered from a lack of information in the process so far? What is the role of the Parliament of North Macedonia?

The European Parliament has a key role to play on EU enlargement. In addition to outlining the framework and preparing annual progress reports on the candidate countries, in this case, on North Macedonia, it has additional weight. As Standing Rapporteur, I co-chair the Jean Monnet Dialogue, which is an important tool of the European Parliament for establishing mediation and seeking cross-party dialogue. The emphasis is on joining the EU as a national cause, in the name of which the parties in North Macedonia to be ready to put aside their differences. Within this format, specific commitments are made by the political forces and we monitor their implementation.

Last Monday (20 April), the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee adopted by a large majority a report on the European Parliament’s recommendations for the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans. Could you give us more details about this report?

This report expresses the European Parliament’s full support for the Western Balkans. With a large majority, the EP stated that enlargement is one of the most successful policies contributing to democracy, peace and prosperity across Europe, and that the prospect of EU membership is a stimulus for reform in the Western Balkans. With the revised methodology we expect to give a new impetus and dynamics to the enlargement process. The report underlines the need to reform and enlarge the EU. The two processes are not mutually exclusive but complementary.

I believe that our recommendations will be taken as a basis for the forthcoming meeting with the countries of the Western Balkans and the EU in Zagreb on 6 May. I expect EU leaders to make an ambitious declaration on the future of the region in the EU.

In February, as the EP’s Standing Rapporteur on North Macedonia, you visited the country and met with President Stevo Pendarovski, the caretaker Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and other high-ranking officials.

Could you tell us more about your impressions of this visit? What is the mood in the country regarding accession and how does North Macedonia view Bulgaria as part of this process? What are the moods towards Serbia? Is Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party with its pronounced anti-Bulgarian and anti-European rhetoric a threat for the country’s accession to the EU and the relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia?

A decision was taken that we pay a visit at the level of a political group, in which the President of “Renew Europe” Dacian Ciolos also took part. The aim was to convey the positive message that we stand firmly behind the future enlargement of the EU and the full integration of the Western Balkans into the European family. Three months later, I am glad that the door to North Macedonia is already open. My impression is that there is a consensus between all parties when it comes to EU membership. They have declared it many times. Of course, they have some nuances in their positions, but I could not define them as insurmountable.

EU membership requires both the involvement of the country’s entire political and expert resource and the support and guidance of friends. Both Bulgaria and North Macedonia are well aware of that.

On March 20, together with MEPs Lucas Mandel (Austria, EPP), Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Greens, Germany) and Andrei Kovatchev (EPP), you sent a letter to Ursula von der Leyen calling on the European Commission for effective measures to support the Western Balkans in the fight against the coronavirus. Do you think that the Commission’s follow-up measures were effective and how do you think the health crisis will affect the timetable of the accession process?

My fellow MEPs and I have called on the European Commission to propose effective measures to help the Western Balkans fight the coronavirus. It was important that this issue be discussed immediately by the European Council. That is why urgent and important decisions were taken for the region. In this situation, the EU acted decisively and activated its humanitarian and civil protection capabilities. This decision was further developed by a recent EP resolution.

On March 27, after the ratification process was completed, North Macedonia became the 30th member of NATO. On this occasion, on April 1, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a sharp statement, trying to downplay the accession of a “weak country like North Macedonia”, which is unlikely to increase NATO’s strength and described the benefits of NATO membership as “doubtful.” What is your comment on the statement of the Russian Ministry? What do you think will be the geopolitical consequences of the Alliance’s enlargement in the Western Balkans region?

The European prosperity and security of the region are closely linked to the NATO integration process. Achieving peace, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in the Western Balkans is a process that requires consistent policy. Both in terms of NATO enlargement and EU membership. We must not forget how fragile the democracies in the Western Balkans are. NATO membership of North Macedonia is another step towards the democratic consolidation of the region and its lasting reconciliation with the past for the benefit of the future. That is why I wouln’t talk about geopolitical consequences. This is not the meaning of NATO, but rather the search for peace, through collective defense. Today, it is more than necessary to restart the dialogue. That was also the call of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during his hearing in the EP Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year, when he said that “we must strive for better relations with Russia.”

Тази публикация е достъпна и на следните езици: Bulgarian