Motion for a resolution - B8-0310/2016Motion for a resolution

MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION on the 2015 Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

2.3.2016 - (2015/2895(RSP))

to wind up the debate on the statements by the Council and the Commission
pursuant to Rule 123(2) of the Rules of Procedure

Ivo Vajgl on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs

Procedure : 2015/2895(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected :  


European Parliament resolution on the 2015 Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, of the other part[1],

–  having regard to UN Security Council resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993),

–  having regard to the judgment of the International Court of Justice on the Application of the Interim Accord of 13 September 1995,

–  having regard to the Presidency Conclusions of the Thessaloniki European Council of 19-20 June 2003 concerning the prospect of the Western Balkan countries joining the Union,

–  having regard to the European Council’s decision of 16 December 2005 to grant the country the status of candidate for EU membership, and to the European Council conclusions of June 2008 and the Council conclusions of 15 December 2015,

–  having regard to the 12th meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council between the country and the EU, held on 20 July 2015,

–  having regard to the Final Declaration by the Chair of the Vienna Western Balkans Summit of 27 August 2015 and the Recommendations of the Civil Society Organisations for the Vienna Summit 2015,

–  having regard to the Declaration of the High-Level Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean – Western Balkans Route, held in Luxembourg on 8 October 2015, and the Leaders’ Statement issued after the Leaders’ Meeting on refugee flows along the Western Balkan Route, held in Brussels on 25 October 2015,

–  having regard to the OSCE/ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report of 27 November 2015,

–  having regard to the Commission’s Urgent Reform Priorities for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia of June 2015,

–  having regard to the Recommendations of the Senior Experts’ Group on systemic Rule of Law issues relating to the interception of communications revealed in Spring 2015,

–  having regard to the fifth meeting of the High Level Accession Dialogue, held in Skopje on 18 September 2015,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 10 November 2015 entitled ‘EU Enlargement Strategy’ (COM(2015)0611), accompanied by the Commission staff working document entitled ‘The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Report 2015’ (SWD(2015)0212),

–  having regard to the political agreement (the so-called ‘Przhino Agreement’) reached between the four main political parties in Skopje on 2 June and 15 July 2015,

–  having regard to the 13th meeting of the EU-Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) held in Skopje on 3-4 December 2015,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on the country,

–  having regard to the work of Ivo Vajgl as the standing rapporteur on the country of the Committee on Foreign Affairs,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the prospect of EU membership is a major incentive for further reforms, particularly with regard to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, and a source of hope for a prosperous future for young generations; whereas opinion polls show considerable public support for EU membership in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia;

B.  whereas the rule of law, media freedom, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are key elements in the EU enlargement process;

C.  whereas the country has been a candidate for EU membership for ten years and is still considered among the most advanced candidates in terms of alignment with the acquis;

D.  whereas (potential) candidate countries are judged on their own merits, and the speed and quality of the necessary reforms determine the timetable for accession;

E.  whereas the Commission, supported by Parliament, has repeatedly called for the opening of accession negotiations, stressing the importance of negotiations as a key driver of the process of necessary reforms;

F.  whereas the Council has been blocking progress in the country’s accession process partly owing to the unresolved name issue with Greece; whereas bilateral issues should not be used to obstruct the EU accession process but should be addressed in a constructive spirit as early as possible in the accession process, taking into account the principles and values of the UN and of the EU;

G.  whereas there is consensus between the Commission, the Council and Parliament that the maintenance of the positive recommendation to open accession negotiations with the country shall be conditional on the full implementation of the June/July 2015 political agreement and substantial progress in the implementation of the Urgent Reform Priorities; whereas full implementation of the political agreement would create an environment in which there is a realistic prospect of a negotiated resolution of the name issue with Greece;

H.  whereas the divisive political mentality, the lack of compromise and the collapse of dialogue took the form of a political crisis, which led to the boycott of the country’s parliament by the major opposition party and further undermined confidence in public institutions; whereas it is the shared responsibility of the government and the opposition to ensure sustainable political dialogue and cooperation, which are essential for the country’s democratic development, the pursuit of the European agenda and the common good of its citizens;

I.  whereas the country is facing serious challenges relating to intercepted communications, which have underlined crucial shortcomings and concerns; whereas the recent political crisis has demonstrated the lack of an effective system of checks and balances within the Macedonian institutions and the need to increase transparency and public accountability, including adequate mechanisms for oversight of the main services and internal structures;

J.  whereas full implementation of the political agreement by the leaders of the four main political parties is crucial for the stability of the country; whereas this agreement envisaged, inter alia, a way out of the political stalemate, the opposition’s return to parliament, the implementation of systemic rule of law reforms, the strengthening of good neighbourly relations, the resignation of the incumbent government and the Prime Minister at least 100 days before early parliamentary elections, the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor and free and fair early parliamentary elections;

K.  whereas some of the critical issues in the reform process are political influence in the media, the judiciary and public administration, corruption and the completion of the review of the Ohrid Agreement;

L.  whereas the country has been coping with an unprecedented flow of refugees transiting through its territory;

M.  whereas after more than 10 years, the country and Greece have mutually re-established bilateral visits at Foreign Minister level;

1.  Welcomes the four-party agreement of 2 June and 15 July 2015 and its facilitation by the Commissioner for Enlargement, three Members of the European Parliament and the EU mediator on the ground; urges the political parties to assume their respective responsibilities vis-à-vis the citizens and to ensure without delay the full, constructive and timely implementation of all their commitments in a sustainable and negotiated manner, including their commitment to strengthen good neighbourly relations, also in order to maintain the positive recommendation to open EU membership negotiations; urges them also to constructively engage in political dialogue and to pursue efforts to restore public trust in the institutions in order to maintain political stability and to accelerate the reform agenda to ensure the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration and a European perspective;

2.  Takes note of the fact that a number of obligations envisaged in the June/July 2015 Agreement have been fulfilled according to the agreed deadlines and objectives, but regrets the tendency to delay some of the commitments and some retrograde steps in relation to Urgent Reform Priorities; emphasises the aspects of the Agreement which refer to structural reforms, and the need for all parties to constructively engage in the Working Group convened by the EU mediator on a continuous basis and on the issues of implementing the agreement, even during the election period; calls on all parties to put the interests of the country before party interests and insists that an all-party agreement remains essential in order to fulfil all the elements of the June/July 2015 Agreement, which would put the country back on track towards the Euro-Atlantic perspective; welcomes the return to parliament of the main opposition party SDSM on 1 September 2015; welcomes the appointment of a Special Prosecutor on 15 September 2015 to lead independent and thorough investigations; notes that the amendments to the new electoral code, the law establishing the Inquiry Committee, the law on government and the law on the composition of the new State Election Commission were adopted with delay;

3.  Welcomes the commitment of the main political party leaders under the 2 June 2015 agreement to work towards strengthening good neighbourly relations as an essential element for bringing the country closer to the European Union;

4.  Notes that, according to the June/July 2015 Agreement, the new government was to be sworn in on 15 January 2016, 100 days before the agreed date for early parliamentary elections; takes note of the vote by the Macedonian Parliament on 23 February 2016 to set a new date for early parliamentary elections of 5 June 2016; regrets, however, that an opportunity was missed to find a consensus between all parties; recalls that these elections will in themselves be an important test for the democratic process of the country; insists that all the political parties make efforts to create the conditions for credible early elections and underlines the paramount importance of these elections being free, fair, in full compliance with international standards and in line with OSCE/ODIHR recommendations;

5.  Underlines the need to prepare the elections to the highest international standards, including ensuring free and fair election procedures and enhancing media freedom; expresses concern about the slow pace of the audit of the voters’ list and media reform; emphasises that the State Election Commission must have full capacity to conduct its work and that a methodology for the audit of the voters’ list should be agreed by all parties, with an agreed level of field checks to ensure legitimacy; underlines, moreover, the importance of all political actors respecting the results of the elections and actively taking part in parliamentary activities; notes the shared responsibility of the major political forces for the process of preparation of the elections; urges the international community to be present for election observation;

6.  Considers it of strategic importance to ensure continuity of support to the Macedonian progress towards EU membership; notes that the recommendation to open accession negotiations should be conditional upon the full implementation of the June/July 2015 political agreement and substantial progress on the implementation of the Urgent Reform Priorities; calls on the Council to address this issue at its earliest convenience after the early parliamentary elections, as indicated by the Commission; stresses the need to create the pre-conditions for democratic and fair elections, inter alia by the preparation of a reliable voters register and media freedom; welcomes the high level of alignment with the legislative acquis and the fact that the country has achieved some progress in the last year in 25 out of the 33 acquis chapters;

7.  Considers it essential for the democratic process that the Special Prosecutor be given full support to fulfil her agreed functions and maintain full autonomy, and all resources required to investigate any wrongdoings arising from the wiretaps; calls for an end to obstructions in the courts against referring evidence to the Special Prosecutor, and for support for amendments to the law in order to ensure her autonomous authority as regards witness protection with respect to the cases for which her office is responsible;

8.  Considers it essential for the democratic process that the Urgent Reform Priorities on systemic reforms on the rule of law and fundamental rights be implemented without delay; invites the Commission to report back to Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the political agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities after the early parliamentary elections, and to give an assessment of the conduct of the elections;

9.  Underlines the key role of the country’s parliament in the democratic development of the country and as the forum for political dialogue and representation; calls for its legislative and oversight functions to be improved and strengthened; calls for the regular convening and smooth operation of the relevant parliamentary committees on interception of communications and on security and counterintelligence; calls for the finalisation of the recommendation of the committee of inquiry into the events which occurred in parliament on 24 December 2012; stresses the need to ensure the committee’s unhindered access to the necessary data, testimonies and technical assistance, and to provide credible parliamentary control of the work of the intelligence services, including the necessary checks and balances on the executive’s power;

10.  Is concerned about the very weak internal and external oversight and control of the intelligence services; calls urgently for the strengthening of the oversight role of the relevant institutions over these services and for full implementation of the recommendations of the Senior Experts’ Group on systemic rule of law issues relating to the communications interception revealed in Spring 2015;

11.  Is concerned that the Macedonian public administration remains subject to political influence; urges the government to enhance professionalism, neutrality and independence at all levels and to ensure the full implementation of the principles of accountability, transparency and merit; calls on the competent authorities to implement in a sustainable manner the Law on Administrative Servants and the Law on Public Employees, in full compliance with the principles of transparency, meritocracy and equal representation, and to adopt a comprehensive public administration reform strategy for 2016-2020, including an action plan, and a public financial management reform programme;

12.  Underlines the need to enhance administrative capacity and inclusive and evidence-based policy-making in order to ensure effective implementation of policies and lines of accountability; calls for the development of a designated training programme for public administration staff; urges the Commission to provide assistance and exchange possibilities in this regard;

13.  Supports the government’s plans to increase accessibility to public services by prioritising the development of e-services; suggests that the government look for twinning opportunities and take stock of existing best practices; notes that e-services would reduce the bureaucratic burden for the state, for citizens and when doing business; considers, furthermore, that e-services would enhance the country’s economic performance and enable the transparency of the public administration and services to be increased;

14.  Notes the well-established legal framework and earlier measures as regards judicial reform, but deplores the cases of selective justice, particularly through the misuse of Article 353 of the Criminal Code; calls once again for political will to depoliticise the appointment and promotion of judges and prosecutors and to ensure the professionalism and independence of the Judicial Council; stresses the need for the efficient functioning, sufficient staffing and independence of administrative courts and for the capacities of the Academy for Judges and Prosecutors to be strengthened; calls for the preparation and proper consultation of stakeholders on a new 2015-2020 Judicial Reform Strategy and action plan;

15.  Considers civil society to be well-organised but remains concerned about the difficult climate surrounding it and the public attacks by politicians and media on civil society organisations (CSOs); calls on the authorities not to discriminate against CSOs on any grounds such as political affiliation, religious views or ethnic composition; regrets the insufficient cooperation with CSOs, at both central and local levels, in policy and law-making; calls on the authorities to encourage CSOs to actively participate in the overview of the whole electoral process; urges the government to acknowledge the added value of the CSOs by consulting with them during the process of drawing up legislation and policy, to develop the relevant 2015-2017 action plan, to establish the Council for Cooperation with CSOs, to facilitate the necessary dialogue and to include CSOs in policymaking in a regular and structured manner; notes with concern the violent clashes between protesters and police during the May 2015 demonstrations and calls on the government to ensure full respect for freedom of assembly;

16.  Reiterates that the authorities and civil society should take appropriate measures to achieve historical reconciliation in order to overcome the divide between and within different ethnic and national groups, including citizens of Bulgarian identity;

17.  Encourages the country to establish joint expert committees with its neighbours on history and education and to refrain from using educational materials which might contain offensive language towards other countries, with the aim of contributing to an objective, fact-based interpretation of history, strengthening academic cooperation and promoting positive attitudes in young people towards their neighbours;

18.  Remains concerned about widespread corruption, particularly in state and local administration, public procurement and political party financing; urges the government to fight corruption in a non-selective manner, to develop a credible track record on both prevention and prosecution of high-level corruption, and to ensure that all law enforcement and supervisory bodies have sufficient autonomy to act independently; takes note of the adoption of the law on whistleblower protection in November 2015 and urges the authorities to ensure its implementation in line with European standards; encourages independent CSOs and the media to bring corruption issues to light and support independent and impartial investigations and trials; stresses the need to strengthen the independence of the police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, and to reinforce the Interior Ministry’s staffing and technical capacities for fighting corruption; calls for enhanced scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest and of assets belonging to elected and appointed officials by establishing a central register of such public servants;

19.  Welcomes the fact that the police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office were reinforced in the fight against organised crime and that steps, including regional/international operations, have been taken to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings; commends the cooperation with neighbouring countries, EU Member States and Eurojust in taking down several organised crime networks; encourages further improvement of cooperation between law enforcement agencies, including those in neighbouring countries, and strengthening of the powers and resources of the courts and the Agency for Management of Confiscated Property; calls for the National Coordination Centre for the Fight against Organised Crime to be made operational and for the establishment of a sound track record on combating money laundering; commends the participation of the country in regional initiatives to fight the illegal trafficking of firearms and explosives; urges that cooperation in this field between the Commission and the Macedonian authorities, as well as governments in the region, should be stepped up further;

20.  Notes the important contribution to regional efforts to fight Islamic radicalism; encourages the development of a comprehensive strategy and action plan to prevent and counter radicalisation, in close cooperation with religious leaders and communities, and the pursuit of efforts to identify, prevent and disrupt foreign terrorist fighters; strongly reiterates the need for the government to define a common proactive strategy of foreign, security and defence policy, bearing in mind the current international terrorist threat;

21.  Urges that the investigations into the events at Kumanovo be fully completed; welcomes the declarations from political actors that the events at Kumanovo should not be linked with interethnic relations;

22.  Reminds the government and the political parties of their responsibility in shaping a culture of inclusion and tolerance; reiterates its call for the Anti-Discrimination Law to be aligned with the acquis as regards discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity; notes that the new Anti-Discrimination Commission has only one female member and that its members were elected on the grounds of political affiliation to the ruling coalition, which raises the question of whether it can function in an impartial and effective manner; condemns the use of any kind of violence against the LGBTI community and reiterates its request that those responsible for such acts of violence be brought to justice; underlines the need to combat prejudices and discrimination on any grounds against the Roma, and to facilitate their integration and their access to the educational system and the labour market; welcomes the new Law on Combating Domestic Violence, but notes that it fails to recognise all forms of violence; urges the competent authorities to provide support services to victims of domestic violence and to allocate sufficient budget for the implementation of the gender equality strategy and action plan;

23.  Reaffirms that the Anti-Discrimination Law should be amended to bring it into line with the acquis as regards all the categories of discrimination listed in Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; condemns hate speech against discriminated groups and calls for prompt, impartial and effective investigation and prosecution of all hate crimes and attacks targeting people for discriminatory reasons;

24.  Welcomes, in this context, the ‘Pristina Declaration’, which calls upon governments and international, intergovernmental and civil society organisations to fully apply the principles of non-discrimination and equality when working and acting on promotion and respect of Roma rights and fighting anti-Gypsyism in the Western Balkans;

25.  Takes note of the progress made in improving respect for children’s rights; underlines the need to increase and monitor enrolment in early childhood development facilities, especially for the most vulnerable children; highlights the importance of improving inclusion of children with disabilities through integrated services; stresses the need to collect disaggregated and reliable data on the situation of Roma children and for legislative changes to prevent child marriage; emphasises the need for increased coordination among professionals to prevent and respond to violence against children;

26.  Notes with concern that interethnic coexistence remains fragile; calls on all political parties and CSOs to actively promote an inclusive and tolerant multi-ethnic and multi-religious society; stresses the need for a more proactive approach to strengthen coexistence and dialogue, and to achieve cohesion among the various ethnic, national and religious communities; reminds the government, institutions and party leaders of their commitment to fully implement the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) and to complete its review, including policy recommendations; invites the Commission to report back to Parliament and the Council on the state of interethnic relations in the country and the implementation of the OFA; calls for better coordination of the strategic decentralisation programme for 2015-2020 and its action plan;

27.  Recalls that education and cultural training can help to create tolerance and promote reconciliation among the various ethnic groups; reiterates the recommendation made in its previous resolution regarding integrated education, and calls on the government and the competent local authorities to ensure an open, transparent and inclusive process as regards the effective implementation of the Strategy for Integrated Education, by allocating sufficient funding and including CSOs in the process of its review and implementation;

28.  Calls on the authorities to ensure that the recommendations of the Ombudsman’s office and other advisory bodies are followed up by all state bodies in full respect of the law and of the principle of accountability, to ensure effective legal sanctions for non-compliance with the requests and recommendations of independent bodies and to ensure that the Ombudsman Law is amended to comply fully with the UN-defined Paris principles on the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights;

29.  Reiterates the importance of media freedom and independence as one of the core EU values and a cornerstone of any democracy; deplores the further deterioration of freedom of expression and media freedom; regrets, in this context, that in the index compiled by Reporters Without Borders the country has fallen from 34th place in 2009 to 117th in 2015; is very concerned about political pressure, hate speech, the continued polarisation, lack of independence and pluralism in the media, the widespread illegal wiretapping of journalists, the cases of violence and threats against journalists and intimidation and self-censorship, systemic political interference in the editorial policies and the poor professional and ethical standards of some journalists, as well as the absence of investigative and balanced reporting;

30.  Urges that steps be taken to enhance media freedom; calls on all parties to agree on an urgent media reform which will ensure an independent regulatory body and objective and professional reporting; urges the government to enforce transparent and objective criteria on public service announcements, and to ensure the transparent and non-arbitrary implementation of the new law on electronic communications and audiovisual media services, including the strengthening of the independence and capacity of the media regulator; calls for the members of the council of the audiovisual services regulator to be given full decision-making powers for appointments to that council and to the public service broadcaster on a non-partisan basis and in consultation with the associations of journalists; calls for the editorial and financial independence of the public service broadcaster to be ensured, along with full and equal access to the media for all political parties; calls, in the context of the upcoming elections, for a level playing field also as regards the media;

31.  Welcomes the good level of preparation for the development of a functioning market economy, including the simplification of the regulatory framework which has further eased the overall business environment; notes, however, that the weak enforcement of the rule of law, the inefficient judicial system, the large shadow economy and corruption are serious impediments to doing business; stresses that further strengthening legal certainty for foreign investors as well as domestic companies, avoiding discriminatory practices, strengthening administrative capacities and regulatory and supervisory agencies, and improving the quality of regulation, the rule of law and contract enforcement remain important challenges; calls, furthermore, for Article 353 of the Criminal Code on the misuse of official position and authority to be revised in line with the EU acquis and the principles of a market economy; encourages the removal of non-tariff barriers to trade; underlines the great potential and strategic advantage of agriculture and tourism in the further development of the country;

32.  Is concerned about the high level of public debt; calls for improved fiscal discipline and encourages the principle of balanced budget; calls for budgetary implementation and transparency to be improved;

33.  Welcomes the GDP increase of 3.9 % in real terms in the first quarter of 2015, but is concerned that unemployment remains high at 27.4 % and that labour market participation is very low, especially among young people and women; recalls that employment should not be influenced by political affiliation or used for pressure and intimidation of citizens during election campaigns, as pointed out by the OSCE/ODIHR; urges the government to set up functioning social dialogue, to pursue a policy to tackle long-term and structural unemployment, to promote economic policy cooperation, to better align education with labour market demands and to develop a targeted strategy on how to better integrate young people and women into the labour market; calls on the government to dedicate particular attention to improving the perspectives of young people;

34.  Is concerned about the increasing brain drain, especially among young people; takes note of the challenges faced by the country’s education system and emphasises the need for a comprehensive analysis in this respect; recommends strategic planning for future reforms and legislative changes through the involvement of student movements and organisations, in order to reduce the outflow of highly educated and professional people; with regard to the data and analysis of Eurostat and other international organisations, which indicate serious migration trends, especially among young people, recommends evaluating the 2013-2020 national strategy for networking, cooperation and reduction of the outflow of highly educated and professional people, and making records and statistics of these trends publicly available;

35.  Notes with concern the challenges faced by the country’s education system and emphasises the need for a comprehensive analysis in this respect; recommends strategic planning for future reforms and legislative changes with the involvement of the relevant student movements and organisations, enabling them to fully exercise their rights within this process;

36.  Urges the country’s Agency for Youth and Sport to acknowledge the role and support of, and to establish a permanent mechanism for cooperation with, the country’s National Youth Council; welcomes the process of creating a National Youth Strategy for 2016-2025 and emphasises the need to allocate proper funding for its implementation;

37.  Welcomes the plan to upgrade and modernise parts of the railway network and encourages the Macedonian authorities to continue to develop and further improve public transport in cooperation with the neighbouring countries;

38.  Regrets that energy targets have not been met with regard, in particular, to energy efficiency and the use of renewables, and calls for the swift adoption of the relevant action plans;

39.  Stresses the need to make progress in opening up the internal electricity market, and to fully comply with the Energy Community Treaty; underlines the need to adopt national energy efficiency and renewable energy action plans; is worried about the alarming air pollution levels and urges the government to act immediately in reducing air pollution, especially in urban areas;

40.  Reiterates its concern about the high levels of air and water pollution in the country; points out that significant efforts are needed in the field of the environment and in particular in the area of air quality;

41.  Welcomes the fact that the Food and Veterinary Agency has continued to update the systems for controlling imports of live animals and animal products, thus improving controls on the identification, registration and movement of animals; welcomes the enactment of additional legislation on the non-commercial movement of pets and zoo-technical issues, as well as new legislation on animal welfare;

42.  Remains concerned about the insufficient capacity to programme and absorb Instrument for Pre-accession assistance (IPA) funds; urges the government to strengthen the administrative and financing capacities in order to procure and implement EU funds properly and in a timely manner; calls on the Commission to closely monitor projects financed by the EU in order to avoid misuse of European public money for political and other inappropriate purposes;

43.  Notes that the country has been facing an unprecedented migratory flow, with over 500 000 persons transiting through in 2015; recognises that it has acted as a responsible partner in coping with the huge influx of migrants and refugees and in setting up effective border management measures; notes the economic burden created by this influx; calls on the Commission to enhance support for border management capacity and allow access to the relevant EU instruments and programmes; calls upon the competent authorities to avoid and refrain from any kind of actions, including violence and the use of force, which might discriminate against, and put at risk the lives of, refugees and migrants; notes that all relevant kinds of actions should be in line with EU values and principles and should respect the dignity of human beings and human life; encourages the competent authorities to enhance, with the EU’s help, reception and accommodation facilities, regional coordination and information exchange and effective border management, to extend law enforcement capacities and to combat trafficking in human beings; urges the country to do everything possible to ensure facilities for refugees and migrants, uphold humane conditions, refrain from violent pushbacks and ensure strict respect for the country’s own law and for international law on refugees and asylum; notes that the overall number of unfounded asylum applications filed in Schengen member countries has declined; recalls that special attention must be devoted to the vulnerable situation of refugee and migrant children and unaccompanied minors travelling across the country by providing them with basic services and ensuring outreach of social workers to provide appropriate protection;

44.  Considers that EU negotiations can only positively influence efforts towards resolving bilateral disputes, while also generating momentum and leverage as regards much-needed reforms, particularly in respect of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, strengthening multiethnic cohesion, and safeguarding the credibility of the EU’s enlargement policy;

45.  Commends the agreement with Greece on 11 confidence-building measures, mainly in the fields of education, culture, energy and internal affairs; notes that cooperation is the best confidence-building measure; welcomes as a positive sign the high-level consultations of the two Foreign Ministers in the respective capitals and the creation of a joint task force aimed at overseeing the implementation of the measures; invites both sides to build upon the outcome of these meetings and engage in further constructive discussion at a high political level, including on the implementation of the confidence-building measures, with a view to enriching bilateral cooperation and strengthening mutual trust; encourages both governments to use the momentum and take concrete steps towards further enhancing mutual trust, including with regard to the name issue; invites the Vice-President / High Representative (VP/HR) and the Commission to support the spirit of cooperation and develop new initiatives to overcome the remaining differences in line with the ruling of the International Court of Justice of 5 December 2011, in order to work, in cooperation with the two countries and the UN Special Representative, towards a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue and to report back to Parliament thereon;

46.  Underlines the importance of regional cooperation and believes that it is an essential element in the EU accession process, bringing stability and prosperity to the region; welcomes the country’s constructive role in regional and international cooperation, and its willingness to participate in high-level visits with neighbouring countries as a means of fostering regional cooperation; notes that open issues in relations with Bulgaria have remained and reiterates the importance of finalising the negotiations on a treaty on friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation; reiterates its concern over the use of historical arguments in the current debate with neighbours, and welcomes any efforts towards joint celebrations of common historical events with neighbouring EU Member States; considers that this could contribute to a better understanding of history and good neighbourly relations;

47.  Welcomes the country’s active participation in the Western Balkans 6 connectivity agenda by endorsing the agreement on the regional core transport network and other commitments undertaken as part of the Berlin Process; invites the competent authorities to swiftly implement the ‘soft measures’ agreed during the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna in 2015 (e.g. simplifying/aligning border-crossing procedures, railway reforms, information systems) before the next Western Balkans Summit, which will take place in 2016 in France;

48.  Invites the government to improve the overall level of alignment with the EU foreign policy as the rate of alignment (68 %) has remained low; invites the government to comply with the EU Common Positions on the integrity of the Rome Statute;

49.  Calls on the Commission and the Council to include the country in the EU macro-regional strategies for cooperation in South-East Europe; offers its congratulations on the successful completion of the Macedonian Presidency of the Central European Initiative;

50.  Is of the opinion that Macedonian membership of NATO could contribute to achieving greater security and political stability in South-East Europe; hopes for accession negotiations to be opened soon;

51.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the government and parliament of the country.