President. - The first item is the debate on statements by the Council and the Commission on the 2011 progress report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2011/2887(RSP)).
Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council. – Mr President, before starting my speech here, I would also like to pay tribute and to extend condolences and grief from the Presidency to the victims and the families involved in that terrible accident. I believe that everyone in this Chamber feels for the victims and the families today and we will, of course, honour them later on, as has been stated. I believe that is very appropriate.
On behalf of the Danish Presidency of the Council, it is a great pleasure for me to participate in this debate and to review progress on enlargement and the accession negotiations. First of all, let me underline how much we appreciate Parliament’s interest in and support for the enlargement process. Your active and constructive contribution to the wider debate on enlargement is highly valued and appreciated.
I would also like to begin these three debates today by highlighting the resilience of the EU enlargement policy. This is sometimes overlooked, not least in times of great economic hardship and uncertainty. Last December, we were able to sign the accession treaty with Croatia, which is now in the process of being ratified by national parliaments. This should allow Croatia to join the Union in July 2013. Only two weeks ago, on 1 March, the European Council granted candidate status to Serbia. Both achievements show that the political momentum behind the EU’s enlargement policy is driven by the power to transform and bring about positive change. The process has brought prosperity and, even more importantly, it has proved to be a positive factor for peace and security.
I would like to turn now to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Since December 2005, the country has been a candidate for membership of the EU. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is important in the region, being fully engaged in regional initiatives such as the Regional Cooperation Council and the South-East European Cooperation Process. It also contributes to the EU Althea mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At its meeting on 5 December 2010, the Council welcomed the further progress made by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the area of reform, as well as the fact that it is fulfilling its commitment under the stabilisation and association agreement.
The Council broadly shares the Commission’s assessment of the country's sufficient fulfilment of the political criteria. Since the early elections of June last year, which followed a boycott of the parliament, the governing coalition has been stable. Let me briefly mention the progress which has been made on issues such as the reform of the parliament, the judiciary, public administration and respect for – and protection of – minorities, before I address the key challenges that remain.
We welcome the improvement, compared to 2008, of the handling of the parliamentary elections on 5 June 2011, which were competitive, transparent and well administrated throughout the country. Naturally, the government needs to implement fully the conclusions and recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, particularly regarding the separation between state and party activities during the campaign period. We expect the 2013 local elections to be handled equally well as – if not better than – the 2011 elections.
We also welcome the fact that the government coalition has resolved earlier difficulties and has strengthened internal cooperation. It is important that the momentum of the reform process be maintained. Freedom of expression in the media remains a matter of concern. We welcome the opening of a dialogue on this issue. The closure, on grounds of tax evasion, of a major television channel and three newspapers which were critical of the government has raised concerns about the proportionality and selectivity of the procedure and has reduced the diversity of the media landscape. As for judicial reform, some positive progress has been achieved.
This is also the case for the amendments to the legal framework in relation to the fight against corruption. The adoption of a new criminal procedure code is a significant step forward in the fight against crime and corruption but requires further institutional work in order to be fully implemented. Corruption remains a serious problem which needs to be addressed.
Further progress has also been made in the area of cultural rights and minorities. The tenth anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement provided a good opportunity for enhanced dialogue between the communities in the country. Both the letter and the spirit of the Ohrid Framework Agreement must be respected by all.
Integration of the Roma in the education system has improved, but further measures need to be taken, as the Roma continue to face very difficult living conditions and discrimination, in particular, regarding civil registration. In the area of human rights, we are concerned about cases of ill treatment by special police forces as well as discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. This needs to be addressed.
Overall, the developments in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are encouraging. The Council has noted that the Commission has reiterated its recommendation that accession negotiations should be opened. We stand ready to return to this during our Presidency.
Let me end by recalling that maintaining good neighbourly relations – which has to include a negotiated and mutually-accepted solution with the UN to the main issue – is essential. We very much hope that the ongoing high-level dialogue will yield a positive outcome as soon as possible.
Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, there could hardly be a greater tragedy than when lives of young ones are taken away. Let me join you and others in an expression of deepest solidarity and grief.
I am delighted to be discussing the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with you one week after I attended the hearing in Parliament hosted by Mr Howitt. Today will be yet another opportunity to take stock of the developments in the country during the last year.
I would like to thank especially Mr Howitt for the high-quality report we are discussing today. I am pleased that the European Parliament motion for a resolution broadly shares the Commission findings in the 2011 progress report. Once again – and the third time in a row – there is a consensus between us that accession negotiations should start. As you are aware, the Council has not acted on the recommendation but has stated its willingness to return to the issue during the Danish Presidency.
It is in this context that I am travelling to Skopje later today to launch the high-level accession dialogue. Our aim is to move the country closer to the European Union and to keep the European Union agenda as the driving force of the transformation in the country. It is by no means a substitute for actual negotiations.
The dialogue will take forward the reform agenda in the country by achieving a clear agreement on the reforms to be taken in five key policy areas. Firstly, as regards the rule of law – which is a policy area of strategic importance to the European Union – we will associate the country with the new approach which is currently being followed with Montenegro.
Secondly, regarding freedom of expression, the Commission and Parliament agree on the importance of this in the enlargement process. As a result of our joint efforts on this, I am pleased that the first steps to address our concerns have been taken by the government in Skopje. A dialogue between the state and journalists has been established. One of the key points discussed was the decriminalisation of defamation. I therefore very much welcome the announcement by Prime Minister Gruevski and Deputy Prime Minister Arifi that defamation will be fully decriminalised.
Thirdly, public administration reforms must go forward, which means implementing the 2011 reform strategy. Fourthly, electoral reform needs to be completed. The fifth area is the development of a functioning market economy.
The Commission will continue to support the country in addressing all these challenges through targeted financial cooperation. I have taken good note of Parliament’s suggestions concerning the IPA programme and the Civil Society Facility in this regard.
The Commission also agrees with your view of the importance of good neighbourly relations between the country and its neighbours and the need to increase mutual understanding. We are closely monitoring developments in this field and will assess them again in the 2012 progress report.
Finally, you have requested that the European Union should be ready to assist in resolving the name issue. The United Nations has a clear mandate to mediate on the name issue between the country and Greece. We are helping to create a climate conducive to compromise, and we are encouraging the countries to find one. For the European Union to become engaged in a more substantial way, there would have to be a clear demand by both parties.
As I have said on many occasions, it is a political reality that a solution to the name issue will greatly facilitate further progress in European integration. I welcome the fact that the two sides are re-engaging and strongly encourage them to build on the progress made in 2011.
Richard Howitt, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, I would like to start by saying how proud I have been during the past year to be appointed as rapporteur to establish a very fruitful collaboration with the shadows, to support the work of the Commissioner, whom I deeply respect, and to become even more convinced that this is a country which belongs inside the European Union.
It is why I endorse the call for EU accession talks to start ‘without delay’ in paragraph 1, sentence 1 of the resolution: no qualifications. It is why I have tabled an amendment endorsing the high-level accession dialogue due to begin tomorrow, not as an alternative to talks, but as an opportunity for progress which cannot be missed.
I point to the improvement in elections that I witnessed and in parliamentary cooperation, to economic progress, to judicial and public service reform. I do not see as criticism the words of those who call me friendly to the country, because friendly criticism is precisely what is needed. On war crimes, freedom of media, discrimination, police ill-treatment and on the Roma, look at the resolution and you will find such friendly but robust criticism. And the decision to abolish the crime of defamation against journalists is indeed demonstration that our demands are being heard and acted upon.
It is why those who wish to delete my reference to the country’s success in the basketball championships are wrong. It shows that we can appreciate the difference between legitimate national pride at the same time as warning against illegitimate political nationalism. For those who are erecting hoops through which the country must jump, it is one very apt metaphor that they can do it.
But the warnings are not just to the country, but to ourselves, not least in the incidence of ethnic conflict over the last week. As I was told in the country: for stability, like a bicycle, you need to keep moving forward.
And that includes the name issue. Despite the Hague judgment, I repeat today that there is no shortcut to a negotiated solution. But to those who seek to delete paragraph 15 even though it meets the UN accord: you would be sending a signal that we do not understand the feelings of the people of the country or express our desire to back a solution which is fair and just to all. And to colleagues from neighbouring countries who have negotiated with me have seen how I sought to be flexible and inclusive: just as you rightly call on Skopje to avoid provocations, in the way that you speak today and in the way that you vote, I call on you to demonstrate the very same commitment.
Shortly, this country will take over the chair of the Regional Cooperation Council. It hosted the meeting of Ministers of European Integration from across the Balkans in the wake of this year’s Commission progress reports. It is a country which has excellent relations with both Serbia and Kosovo. Its progress points to the European future of every single one of the countries, but there has to be a European future for every one of the countries, which is why this is the debate which must be heard; these are the obligations which must be met on all sides; this is a country which cannot be left behind.
Eduard Kukan, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Mr President, first, I would like to congratulate Mr Howitt on this good report. We agreed to reiterate in it our call on the Council to open the accession negotiations without further delay. I fully support this call as I am convinced that, in order to trigger more developments, the country needs to work on a positive agenda and the negotiation with the EU is exactly that positive agenda.
The more we prolong the gap between the candidate status and negotiations, the less credible the EU policy could become in the Balkans. Otherwise, I am afraid there will be some substituting agenda in some programmes as we see, for example, in the area of inter-ethnic relations in the country. Therefore, I fully support Commissioner Füle’s initiative to leave the higher level accession dialogue focused on the most difficult areas in the future negotiations. The main areas where progress is still needed are freedom of the media, reform in judicial and public administration and the fight against corruption. They need to be addressed promptly.
Finally, Macedonia has a realistic chance to move forward in the EU integration process, yet it is also our responsibility to make this happen.
Norica Nicolai, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (RO) Mr President, I wish to thank Mr Howitt for his cooperation. I think that we managed together to draft an objective report, but I cannot refrain from confessing the frustration I feel again this year because negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have not yet started. I believe that Macedonia may be a specific case of questioning our efficiency and motivation in relation to the accession process of some Member States. I believe that the dispute regarding the name – and this especially in relation to the decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague – can no longer be an impediment to the European course of the country.
Beyond the criticisms that can be addressed to this Member State, as well as to others, we have to admit that there are specific situations also in states that are members of the European Union and that are facing the same kind of issues; I mean the freedom of the media, the efficiency of justice, the status of functional market economy. However, beyond these issues, I think that the European course of Macedonia should not be impeded, nor discouraged by applying palliatives, as we are currently trying to do. We have proposed in this report an arbitration in which the European Union is to become actively involved in complying with judicial decisions and in the attempt to find legally objective solutions for the European course of a country to not be impeded.
Apart from this, I think that judicial reform is essential for Macedonia and, in that respect, progress, significant progress even, was made. Of course, it must continue, but we cannot ignore the way in which the laws on the Criminal Procedure Code and the status and independence of judges have been dealt with, nor can we ignore the fact that progress was made in the context of the Ohrid Framework Agreement …
(The President cut off the speaker)
Marije Cornelissen, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, I keep thinking how wonderful it would be if we could hold a debate about the country without the name being such an issue. If we could just concentrate on the progress and on the hard work that still lies ahead, there is enough to do as regards more fundamental rights: stopping corruption and reforming the economy and the labour market. Bizarrely, reaching a solution should not be too hard. Greece has made an offer for a composite name with a geographical denomination, and Macedonia has always stated that what it finds most important is that its identity, culture, nationality and language are not questioned. We would like to give the process a small but significant push by applauding the offer, so we have put in an amendment.
I hope that other groups will vote in favour of this and – who knows? – maybe next year, we will be back here and freely speak about ‘North Macedonia’ in which Macedonian people with Macedonian identities and Macedonian culture happily speak Macedonian.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Dimitar Stoyanov (NI), Blue-card question. – (BG) Mr President, Ms Cornelissen, I am addressing you as a speaker on behalf of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance because the Group of the Greens is renowned for its fairly serious position on defending human rights and the rights of minorities. I would like to ask you whether you are aware that the rights of people who consider themselves Bulgarian continue to be violated in Macedonia, and what is the position of the Group of the Greens on this issue?
Marije Cornelissen (Verts/ALE), Blue-card answer. – I think that discrimination against whatever national group or other minority or even against women should be firmly combated. Some groups should be singled out by mentioning them – the LGBT community is one of them. I have no problem with a mention of Bulgarians but I would find it important to have a nuanced vision on this because there is a bit of going back and forth between Bulgaria and Macedonia in stigmatisation and stereotyping. But, if there is discrimination, it should be combated.
Marina Yannakoudakis, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, my group supports the call for this resolution to welcome FYROM to the EU as soon as possible. As a member of the Delegation to the EU-former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee, I have been following the debate with great interest. I have been following the areas such as inter-ethnic reconciliation, fundamental rights and reforms and public administration. They all show some sign of improvement and I hope that this will continue.
FYROM has also made steps towards improving its human rights. Now I understand the importance and cultural significance of the name issue and I hope that this will be resolved in due course by the parties concerned. What we need to do is to ensure that the groundwork is prepared for FYROM to become a full member when it meets the required EU criteria.
Nikolaos Chountis, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (EL) Mr President, I must repeat once again that our position, the position of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, and my personal position, is that FYROM can and must become a member of the European Union, if its people so wish. However, I cannot congratulate Richard Howitt, because I think that there are problematic areas in his motion for a resolution.
The first problematic area is the question of the name because, as long as we address this as a bilateral issue, instead of an international problem being addressed in the UN, we are not sending out the right message to the FYROM government to take the steps needed to resolve the problem. As long as this problem is not resolved, whatever anybody says, the FYROM government of the day will be unable to focus on the problems to which my colleagues referred and which need to be addressed in order to get on with the question of its accession to the European Union.
Secondly, I do not consider that accession to the European Union has anything to do with whether or not a country belongs to NATO and whether or not it is involved in NATO campaigns. Since when did we think up this new criterion, which basically turns the country into a means of serving US interests in the East?
The third problem is that, while FYROM is a country with unemployment and poverty, we are basically recommending – not to say insisting on – the conservative, neoliberal policies that resulted in crisis and will exacerbate these problems.
That is why I disagree with Richard Howitt’s motion for a resolution.
Nikolaos Salavrakos, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (EL) Mr President, the Commission’s progress report maps shortcomings in crucial sectors, such as freedom of expression, justice, the public administration, corruption and numerous others, and contains stricter recommendations than last year’s progress report.
However, I fear that the author of the motion for a resolution has opted for a worse approach, a much less realistic approach than that taken by Mr Füle and Mr Wammen, who discreetly raised the question of the name. The author, on the other hand, has endeavoured, via the side door, to go beyond the instruction given to him to draft a motion for a resolution on FYROM and has tried, in paragraph 15, to take a stand and to formulate a name in an underhand manner.
Using such word tricks is unacceptable and goes beyond the bounds of legality, because it does not promote democracy or good neighbourly relations or proper cooperation between the Member States, values which the European Parliament espouses and, more to the point, it does not make a positive contribution to the negotiations to find a mutually acceptable solution.
I was also surprised by paragraph 62, in which he congratulates the country on the strong performance of its team in the European Basketball Championship. Are we serious? I think that this reference denigrates FYROM and turns the motion for a resolution into the sports page.
I wish to emphasise one thing: that we politicians should not generate false hopes. FRYOM is a country that, I hope, will, in the future, meet all the criteria for accession and will, at some point, join the European Union. Today, however, it does not meet those criteria.
Elmar Brok (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr Wammen, Mr Füle, ladies and gentlemen, it seems important to me that we can welcome the fact that there has been a report of a basketball victory, because it is a way of expressing our empathy. I have also felt pleased in the past when Greece won the European basketball championship.
I believe it is important for us, after a long period of making promises, to finally open negotiations with this country. It is essential that we make progress, because stability in the Western Balkans is a crucial point. Now that the process with Croatia has been successfully concluded, we should take the next step. In my opinion, we also need to offer hope for the future and show that we take the Thessaloniki agenda seriously.
However, every country must also meet its obligations in full and I am slightly concerned that the ethnic conflicts, which are now obviously turning into religious conflicts, will make this more problematic. In order to achieve a successful outcome, I believe it is important that internal disputes do not break out again, that the Ohrid Framework Agreement is followed, and that the groups can be reconciled.
I really think that Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should both resolve their name issues. I genuinely do not understand either side in this dispute. They should be able to come to an agreement over a question like this. The future of Europe must not be allowed to depend on this and, therefore, I think it is right for us to call on the two countries to resolve this issue, which is not of great importance, so that we can finally start to discuss the serious questions.
Libor Rouček (S&D). - Mr President, first of all, let me say, on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats, that we are pleased to see that, despite the financial and economic crisis we are facing, the Union enlargement policy is gaining new momentum, especially in the Western Balkans. As the Minister has already said, enlargement is one of the most successful policies. In my view, and in the view of my group, it should stay so. It should remain strong and robust.
Of course, we should capitalise on the positive dynamics facilitated by Serbia’s candidate status. It should also be a good example for the neighbouring countries that, if they work hard and implement reforms, they can go on the same path.
As far as FYROM is concerned, we regret that the December 2011 International Court of Justice ruling did not translate into any constructive movement towards the resolution of the name issue. I think it is tragic that the name issue can hinder the enlargement process for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We believe that it is in the interests of both the Macedonian people and the Greek people and, of course, all Europeans, that this issue is solved as soon as possible and that this country can move forward.
In this context, I would like to welcome the new high-level accession dialogue led by Commissioner Füle. I want to wish him every success tomorrow when he starts the accession talks. Of course there are some priorities, but I do not have time to mention them. Focus on them and we wish you good luck.
I would like to thank our rapporteur, Richard Howitt, for an excellent report.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD), Blue-card question. – (EL) Mr President, my dear colleague, leaving aside the name, forget the name and tell me this: based on what you have read in the motion for a resolution, based on what we have heard in the House about shortcomings in terms of democracy, human rights abuses and corruption, do you consider that this country is fit, today, for candidate status? On what do you base that?
Libor Rouček (S&D), Blue-card answer. – Mr Salavrakos, FYROM is a candidate country. I recognise and the report recognises that, yes, there are many shortcomings. The Macedonian Government is aware of that situation; I think the whole society is working on improving that situation.
But what I would like to say to you as a Greek is that your country – the whole region – is in economic trouble. Would it not be better if the whole region cooperated, if we created a positive atmosphere, economic cross-country and cross-border cooperation, and, through this cooperation, we could improve the well-being of the entire region, including Greece?
Mirosław Piotrowski (ECR). – (PL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was granted the status of candidate country for European Union membership in 2005, which was over six years ago now. Accession negotiations with FYROM have still not started, mainly because of the bilateral dispute over the country’s name. Supporters of opening accession negotiations with FYROM say that under no circumstances should the dispute be an obstacle in this process. We cannot accept this claim uncritically – it is important for the EU’s Member States to maintain harmonious relations. In this case, the matter concerns Greece, and we must not see Greece’s position as being weakened because of the domestic financial crisis there. On the one hand, everything should be done to ensure that starting negotiations does not mean dragging the EU into local conflicts, but, on the other hand, we need to stimulate deeper discussion on the strategy for further enlargement of the EU in the context of the grave financial crisis.
Marietta Giannakou (PPE). – (EL) Mr President, the European Commission’s report is perfectly clear on the situation in this neighbouring country and, of course, recommends the opening of accession negotiations.
Everyone who has commented on this issue has maintained that a supposedly bilateral difference cannot prevent a country from joining the European Union. However, the problem is not the name; it is the propaganda, the attempt to backdate the problem and the attempt to fly in the face of history and logic.
Everyone who maintains that, for the sake of stability, we should forget this issue, as a result of which young people are being taught a rewritten version of the facts, is sorely mistaken. We cannot accept, and no Greek Government can accept, despite the economic problems – because I caught the hint made by my colleague – that accession negotiations can be opened with this country before the problem has been resolved.
May I remind you that the Council alone is responsible for this issue and I therefore consider that, instead of encouraging this country to persist in its unbelievable propaganda, which stems from its old historic status (I refer to the communist bloc and its plans), it would be better if you told this country exactly what it must do if it wants good neighbourly relations with other countries.
Maria Eleni Koppa (S&D). – (EL) Mr President, all of us here believe that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should join the Euro-Atlantic institutions. At the same time, we believe that it should continue reform efforts and should resolve important problems, such as corruption and human rights abuses. The thorn, of course, that remains is the failure to resolve the problem of the name.
Despite the progress made over the past two years, Mr Gruevski is still playing the same games and refusing to take a constructive approach to dialogue. The forthcoming NATO summit is the reason why things are moving again.
We repeat: a satisfactory solution for both sides needs to be found on the basis of what has been described so many times. This solution must be determined geographically, based on its erga omnes obligation. Every day wasted is a lost opportunity to resolve the problem.
Despite its difficulties and despite the economic crisis, Greece has not stopped trying to find a solution. We welcome the high-level contacts with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, even though, as has clearly been said, they are not, under any circumstances, a substitute for accession negotiations. The key, if this country is to move towards the European institutions, is simply that it must resolve the issue of the name.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Charles Tannock (ECR), Blue-card question. – Mr President, I have heard a lot of mentions from the Greek side of this House – and a mention was recently made by Ms Koppa in her speech – that NATO is complicating matters. I heard a Greek Communist (I believe) say that NATO has got nothing to do with it. Of course NATO has nothing to do with it, but we do respect international law.
Would Ms Koppa not agree that the ICJ was very clear in condemning the Greek position vis-à-vis Macedonia’s accession to NATO and that therefore, when she says that Greece is not at fault and that Macedonia and Gruevski’s propaganda is what it is all about and that is where the fault lies, surely the ICJ is a respected international court and their judgment should have some bearing on the issue of the name question? Ms Koppa, would you like to address this please?
Maria-Eleni Koppa (S&D), Blue-card answer. – (EL) Mr President, we all hoped that the Court’s judgment would give momentum to the negotiations and help speed up the dialogue.
However, that did not happen. As far as NATO is concerned, I consider that resolving the problem of the name would help the country move both towards the European Union and towards NATO. The key, I repeat, lies in resolving the problem of the name.
Andrey Kovatchev (PPE). – (BG) Mr President, Commissioner, the citizens of Macedonia of every ethnic group and religion must have a European future as soon as possible. This is something I sincerely wish for. Unfortunately, the ruling administration in Macedonia clearly does not seem to be working towards this and is failing to take the European Parliament’s recommendations seriously so far.
The continuing dissemination of mono-ethnic historical myths and legends, the promotion of pseudo-scientific research and the funding of propaganda films like ‘The Third Half’ ultimately heighten the conflict both within the country and with its neighbours. Recent events – the rise in inter-ethnic tension – are extremely worrying.
Anyone who thinks that the dispute with Greece is the only problem that this country has is simply being politically blind and needs to open their eyes. This dispute is merely the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, it is still an issue in Macedonia for you to declare openly your Bulgarian ethnic identity or origin. I hope that Macedonia will break any ties with the ethnically-based ideological inheritance of ‘Yugo-communism’ and work at building bridges with its neighbours. Building these bridges involves referring to common historical events and putting an end to hate talk, especially in the media and schoolbooks.
We should not bring up young people, the younger generations in the Balkans who need to live in peace and prosperity, in an atmosphere of hate. I sincerely hope and wish for such a future policy from Macedonia so that its citizens have a future in Europe.
György Schöpflin (PPE). - Mr President, I think this is a thorough and illuminating report, yet the topic of this debate has a decidedly bizarre aspect. There is no agreement – it has been very clear – on what the country that we are discussing should actually be called. I am going to call it ‘Macedonia’. Of course it could always be called ‘FYROM/Macedonia’, but if we try to look at the issue in the round, we can see the absurdity of it all. I cannot think of a single precedent for when a country has come under pressure regarding what it calls itself, in sum because one of its neighbours decided one day to object to the name ‘Macedonia’. Note that the name never bothered this neighbour while Macedonia was a part of Yugoslavia.
This would be weird enough in itself, but to use the name issue to deny Macedonia the right to open negotiations for EU membership can properly be called inexcusable. For one, I certainly do not see the name question as one of the Copenhagen criteria. Worse, the dispute brings the entire enlargement process into disrepute. It really is time to find a solution.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Georgios Koumoutsakos (PPE), Blue-card question. – (EL) Mr President, my dear fellow Member, you referred to the question of the name and said that it is unprecedented for one country not to accept another country’s name.
Macedonia is a geographical area. One part, the biggest part, belongs to the Hellenic Republic. Another part belongs to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and a third part belongs to Bulgaria. There are therefore three states and three nations in one area. One nation, however, and I would emphasise this, is claiming a monopoly both over the name and the language and the history of that area. Do you believe that it is the fault of the two other nations who do not recognise the country or the nation that wants to monopolise the name?
I await your answer.
György Schöpflin (PPE), Blue-card answer. – I cannot do any better than to quote Shakespeare. ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.
Georgios Koumoutsakos (PPE). – (EL) Mr President, it has consistently been Greece’s strategic aim for all the countries of the Western Balkans to aspire to and ultimately succeed in acceding to the European Union. We supported that strategic objective with the Thessaloniki agenda in 2003 and we shall do so again in 2014, when Greece again takes over the Presidency of the European Union. This is an objective that concerns all the States in the Western Balkans without exception.
However, there is one fundamental prerequisite: there must be no outstanding good neighbourhood problems that create tension and dangerous friction. That happened in the case of Slovenia and Croatia.
The problem of the name, therefore, is a real and serious problem; it may come from the past, but it is here, it is present and it is a serious political problem. By no stretch of the imagination is this a bilateral problem. Besides, Mr Nimitz, the special UN negotiator, recently called this a problem …
(The President cut off the speaker)
Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D). - (HU) Mr President, I fully agree with Mr Rouček and Mr Schöpflin, and, as a Hungarian and Central European, I do not see any other possibility than historical reconciliation, either. I find it regrettable that Greece has not shown a willingness to compromise over the past years. As a result, Macedonian citizens have already begun to lose their faith in European integration. That has paved the way for nationalist, populist governance, which, following certain bad examples, for example those of the right-wing Hungarian Government, has significantly restricted press freedom, used independent institutions for political ends, and disregards minority rights. I fully agree with Mr Brok that ethnically motivated violence, which we saw in some parts of Macedonia a week ago, gives rise to extremely serious concerns. All minorities: Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians …
(The President cut off the speaker)
Jelko Kacin (ALDE). - Mr President, the resolution we are discussing today is a message of encouragement and a friendly assessment of what needs to be done so the country can move forward towards the EU. I would like to congratulate the Commissioner for his personal engagement and the decision to start a high-level dialogue as early as this week.
Macedonia can, and should, shape its identity by looking to the future and its European perspective. The Macedonian identity is an integral part of the modern European identity. Macedonian leaders should therefore end the self-imposed isolation of the country and bring its people closer to Europe. With accession to NATO, Macedonia would get security guarantees and secure its territorial integrity; with EU membership, it would attain economic progress, regional stability and protection of human and minority rights.
It is deeply regrettable and worrying that there have been a number of ethnic-based incidents lately. Macedonia needs to preserve its multi-ethnic …
(The President cut off the speaker)
Dimitar Stoyanov (NI). – (BG) Mr President, yesterday, we debated in this Chamber the website which has been published in the Netherlands by the party of our colleagues, and we all gave a very negative response to it, of course, condemning the hate language used. However, I can tell you that, compared to the deliberate hate campaign being conducted by the Macedonian Government, the website which we debated yesterday is absolute sweetness and light.
Poor Macedonia, which was top of the global unemployment league table last year, instead of investing in the creation of new jobs, has poured EUR 2 million into making a hate film whose title I will not even mention so as not to give it any further publicity. These are acts of provocation, ladies and gentlemen. I am sure that you are very well aware of this from the nature of these acts, which have triggered five wars in the last 100 years in the Balkans, including a world war. This situation cannot continue like this and you need to …
(The President cut off the speaker)
Anna Záborská (PPE). – (SK) Mr President, regardless of our nationality or parliamentary group, we all support our Macedonian friends in the reforms that they are carrying out. Parliament has repeatedly supported negotiations with Macedonia on its accession to the European Union. I therefore ask our colleagues from Greece to take this historic opportunity and be the first builders of bridges of understanding between ancient Greek culture and the young Macedonian state. Protection of identity and the right to self-determination are among the fundamental European values. If we query them, we will lose a strong point that we also need to overcome the economic crisis. Where one blocks everyone else, the community ceases to exist, and where there is no community, it is difficult to expect solidarity.
Ivo Vajgl (ALDE). – (SL) Mr President, I think the fundamental message of this debate was expressed by my fellow Members, who said that accession negotiations for the entry of Macedonia to the European Union should begin as soon as possible. Only this will curb or even put an end to the various nationalistic theories that are appearing, which always were a festering wound in relations between the Balkan nations. Even today, we have, unfortunately, heard much of this rhetoric.
I think the time has come for Greece to think about the fact that it is actually international solidarity which is helping to resolve her problems at the moment, and that this is probably a good time for her to show some empathy towards her neighbours. This also goes for some of Macedonia's other neighbours.
I wish Commissioner Füle the best of luck in Skopje.
Jaroslav Paška (EFD). – (SK) Mr President, I would like to support the initiative of the European Commission, which recommends the starting of official negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on that country’s accession to the union of states of the European Union. In recent years, the country has undertaken far-reaching reforms to its political and judicial system, and I think that the statements by the monitoring bodies that the country is meeting all its obligations under association agreements confirm the correctness of the proposal to start negotiations.
The decision of the European Court of Justice regarding the name of the country and the consent of the United Nations to the carrying out of mediation between Greece and the candidate country give us hope that it will be possible to resolve this particular problem of the country’s name in a civilised manner. I therefore think it is necessary to begin negotiations and to let the appropriate authorities carry out mediation regarding the name of the country.
Milan Zver (PPE). – (SL) Mr President, Commissioner, as a member of the Friends of Macedonia Group, I, of course, warmly welcome the key message of this resolution, which calls on the Council to open negotiations.
Many people have misgivings, some historical in nature, others ethnic, some simply due to their own expectations and interests, but I think we must act differently in the 21st century and look towards peace and stability in the region for a solution. This is particularly important for the Balkans.
Progress is undeniable. We have three successive reports from the European Commission, together with last year’s court decision in the Hague, and I think it is time for the European Union to cut the Gordian knot and allow Macedonia to begin accession negotiations.
I see Macedonia as a country with a mature attitude, a mature player, which is already taking on its international obligations.
Csaba Sógor (PPE). - (HU) Mr President, it is mandatory for all countries wishing to join the European Union to comply with the Copenhagen criteria, which includes guaranteeing minority rights. Special attention needs to be paid to this when assessing the integration efforts of the Western Balkan countries, since we are all familiar with the ethnic relations in the region and events of the none too distant past. The European integration of the region should only occur follow reassuring resolution of inter-ethnic relations in a lasting way to the satisfaction of all the national communities. I say this with regret since, for the people of the region, it would be welcome for accession to occur at the earliest possible juncture, and it is true that the means to resolve the matters at issue would also be available after accession. However, practical experience shows that the common institutions of the EU do not deal with the problem of the national minorities living in the Member States and the Copenhagen criteria are, unfortunately, only mandatory before accession.
Seán Kelly (PPE). - Mr President, I think the best antidote to euroscepticism, which is rather rife at the moment, is to have countries actually wanting to join the European Union. Together with Croatia next year, there are a number of candidate countries and now we are discussing FYROM.
The name FYROM is unfortunate. While, from a distance, it does not make sense, I can understand for those closer to it that they may have issues. At the same time, to call anything ‘former’ is not very complimentary. If my country was called ‘the former British colony of Ireland’, I do not think we would be too happy. I think we should set a deadline by which this is to be resolved so that the name reflects its current status rather than the former one.
Moving on from there, we should get it to comply with the Copenhagen criteria on issues such as the economy, media, women’s rights, children’s rights and so forth. I look forward to FYROM, with a proper name, joining the European Union.
Alojz Peterle (PPE). – (SL) Mr President, Slovenia has been mentioned repeatedly today as an argument in relation to Croatia. I would like to state that Slovenia did not block the opening of this negotiating process and has only reacted in this way once, when Croatia claimed disputed borders in its accession documentation. Then it was agreed that the bilateral issue would be resolved outside the context of the accession process. In this sense, I think it is a good example.
I agree with the rapporteur that it is time for Macedonia to move from the agony of the waiting room to the negotiating table. We might legitimately hold very different opinions of the past, as is the case all over the world, but this does not mean that the pull of history is stronger than the desire for a common future.
I hope that Macedonia, which has made progress, also meets with approval in keeping with the European spirit.
Vytautas Landsbergis (PPE). - Mr President, as the resolution is calling again for a name compromise between the different positions of the country deprived of a name and Greece – which is never called a Former Part of the Ottoman Empire – we should take a role in the tabling of possible compromises. May I suggest they should be directed not at the past, but at the future?
We should not favour such names for our European partners as the Former Small Part of Alexander’s Empire Macedonia, or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but rather the Future EU Member State of Macedonia, thus preferring the European future to the less fortunate past. In the same way, we should oppose anyone’s request to call Ukraine a Former Part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, or the Former Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Let us look to the future.
End of the catch-the-eye procedure
Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, in 2011, the country continued to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria, and the Commission therefore reconfirmed its recommendation to open accession negotiations. Nevertheless, we called for the pace of reforms to be intensified, in particular, in the area of freedom of expression, and we therefore welcome the fact that the government of the country is listening to our remarks.
Today’s discussions are evidence of the close alignment of views between Parliament and the Commission on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in particular, and on enlargement policy in general. The discussions have focused on the areas where reform is urgently needed as well as the importance of the European Union fulfilling its commitments towards the country.
I will bring the views expressed here today with me when I travel to Skopje. There, I will meet with Prime Minister Gruevski and his government and have a qualitatively new, structured discussion on the country’s reform process. By taking forward our cooperation in this way, we aim to create a new commitment to reforms and to boost the country’s European perspective. I also believe that a convincing track record of reforms can contribute to creating a positive political climate, which remains essential in order to clear the road for the start of accession negotiations in the near future.
Let me add the following personal remark. I have never failed to call on both Skopje and Athens to find a solution to the name issue through joint efforts and joint compromise. Within that framework, let me make the following two remarks. First, one of the lessons learned from Europe’s sometimes challenging past is that the best way to care about the well-being and future of your own people – citizens – is also to care about your neighbours and the way you are perceived by them. Secondly, another lesson learned is that your – our – identity, while having strong roots in the past, is defined by your – our – present and future steps.
Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council. – (DA) Mr President, Commissioner Füle, honourable Members, I would like to start by congratulating Mr Howitt on the extensive and sterling work that he has done on this issue. I would also like to definitively state that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has taken a number of positive steps forward over recent years. The country has demonstrated political will and produced tangible results which have helped to ensure sound democratic and economic development, particularly since the elections last year. I am convinced that these efforts will continue throughout the remainder of 2012.
Progress has been made in a number of different areas, for example, the reform of parliament, which took place at the same time as progress was evident in connection with the parliamentary elections held on 5 June 2011. I am pleased that a dialogue has now been initiated concerning the outstanding issues relating to freedom of expression in the media. In a democratic society, it is crucial that there is diversity in the media landscape. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has also made progress in respect of judicial reforms. It is good that steps have been taken to increase the judicial system’s independence and improve its efficiency. There is no doubt that a well-functioning and independent judicial authority will be crucial for meeting the EU’s criteria. However, it is worth mentioning that the independence of the judicial system and professional access to it, for example, are still in need of improvement.
With regard to the fight against corruption, there have been adjustments to the legal framework. However, corruption continues to be a serious problem for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The public administration framework has been improved, but challenges still remain in relation to ensuring that recruitment is based on merit to a much greater degree than it has been up to now. The country has also made progress in the area of cultural rights and the rights of minorities, and the 10th anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement thus provided a good opportunity for increased dialogue between the various population groups in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was granted candidate status in 2005 and the country has unremittingly carried out reforms with a view to making further progress. The EU has held out the prospect of EU membership for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and that is an obligation that the EU must fulfil. I understand those Members who, in the debate today, have expressed their disappointment at the fact that we have still not succeeded in taking the decision to initiate accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. At the same time, it is also clear that it is the responsibility of a country which, in the long term, wishes to attain membership of the EU to maintain a constructive dialogue with its neighbouring countries. The name issue is a bilateral one, which ought to be resolved in a way that is acceptable to both parties. That is important in terms of it being possible to achieve agreement concerning the initiation of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I sincerely hope that we will see progress in this area in the near future, and I would like to wish Commissioner Füle luck with the forthcoming talks. The future of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is in Europe. Let us take the right steps to ensure that this happens as quickly as possible.
President. - I have received one motion for a resolution(1) tabled in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.
The debate is closed.
The vote will take place today, Wednesday, 14 March, at 12.00.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Kinga Gál (PPE), in writing. – (HU) I am pleased that the draft resolution deals emphatically with questions such as the peaceful cohabitation of the Macedonian nations and the situation of the national minorities. A separate part of the text addresses the significance of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, signed 10 years ago, which is based on the principle of mutual respect for national identity and laid the foundation for resolving inter-ethnic conflicts. The laws which were adopted and amended in line with the agreement are to be welcomed. However, as I have already mentioned in other speeches, all laws are only worth as much as the extent of their practical implementation. A fundamental condition of peaceful cohabitation is the suitable education of the next generation and the fostering of sensitivity and a positive relationship towards one’s neighbours.
A new generation growing up in such a spirit is key to the creation of a multicultural civil society that is independent and open. It needs to be ensured that all children can study from appropriate textbooks in their own native language.
However, it is equally important, if not more so, that children become familiar not only with their own language and culture, but also with the languages, cultures and histories of their traditional fellow peoples from a young age. Such projects fostering mutual understanding, as well as existing civil organisations, need to be supported emphatically using the Instruments for Pre-Accession Assistance. One way of promoting understanding between neighbouring nations and the development of good neighbourly relations could be to establish a history committee composed of experts from the cohabiting peoples. These measures can prevent discrimination based on nationality and foster mutual acceptance and the assumption of ethnic identity.
Jiří Havel (S&D), in writing. – (CS) I would like to begin by congratulating Richard Howitt, the new rapporteur, on a fine piece of work. The draft of the text clearly shows that he has successfully mastered the art of jumping onto a moving train. We nevertheless still have not resolved the greatest problem – the dispute over the name. The bid made by Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Füle – in line with our recommendation last year – to facilitate an agreement over the name has not yet resulted in the necessary progress, despite all efforts. We should therefore perhaps consider changing the mediation approach. The EU should submit a proposal to the UN for an EU representative to become mediator, or for the matter to be transferred from the competence of the UN to the competence of the EU. This proposal is motivated, above all, by the fact that negotiations have remained stuck on the same point for years, with no prospect of any change. I therefore consider it right to take steps that might lead to an unblocking of the situation. It is impossible, of course, to guarantee that such a change will bring any positive movement. The current path, however, is clearly going nowhere. The EU might at least seize the initiative in this way.