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Procedure : 2011/2887(RSP)
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Document selected : B7-0127/2012

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PV 14/03/2012 - 5
CRE 14/03/2012 - 5

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PV 14/03/2012 - 9.10
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Explanations of votes

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Texts adopted
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Wednesday, 14 March 2012 - Strasbourg
Enlargement report for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

European Parliament resolution of 14 March 2012 on the 2011 progress report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2011/2887(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the European Council decision of 16 December 2005 to grant the status of candidate country for EU membership to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and to the Presidency Conclusions issued following the European Council meetings of 15 and 16 June 2006 and 14 and 15 December 2006,

–  having regard to UNSC Resolutions 845 (1993) and 817 (1993), as well as to UN General Assembly resolution 47/225 (1993) and to the 1995 Interim Accord,

–  having regard to the judgment of the International Court of Justice on the Application of the Interim Accord of 13 September 1995 (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia v. Greece),

–  having regard to the Commission's 2011 Progress Report (SEC(2011)1203) and the Commission Communication of 12 October 2011 entitled ‘Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2011-2012’ (COM(2011)0666),

–  having regard to its previous resolutions,

–  having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of 4 November 2011,

–  having regard to OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report of early parliamentary elections of 5 June 2011,

–  having regard to Council Decision 2008/212/EC of 18 February 2008 on the principles, priorities and conditions contained in the Accession Partnership with the country,

–  having regard to the General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Council conclusions of 13 and 14 December 2010 and of 5 December 2011,

–  having regard to Rule 110(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas at the Thessaloniki European Council meeting of 19 and 20 June 2003 a commitment was made to all the Western Balkan States that they would join the European Union and this commitment was reiterated at the High-Level Meeting on the Western Balkans in Sarajevo on 2 June 2010;

B.  whereas the Commission in its 2011 Progress Report upheld its recommendation from 2009 to start EU accession negotiations with the country;

C.  whereas in its 2011 Enlargement Strategy the Commission confirmed that ‘enlargement policy has proven to be a powerful tool for societal transformation’ and that ‘commitment, conditionality and credibility have been situated at the core of the accession process and its success’;

D.  whereas the Association Partnership called for an intensification of efforts, based on a constructive approach, to find a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue with Greece, in the framework of UN Security Council Resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993), and for the avoidance of actions which could negatively affect such efforts; whereas both the Commission and the Council have repeatedly stressed that maintaining good neighbourly relations, including working towards a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue under the auspices of the UN is essential;

E.  whereas bilateral issues should not represent and be used as an obstacle in the accession process but should be addressed in a constructive spirit, as early as possible, taking into account overall EU interests and values;

F.  whereas regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations remain essential parts of the enlargement process and working out compromises on contested issues is the best way to enhance regional cooperation, in the interests of maintaining of peace and good-neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans; whereas continuation of the accession process would contribute to the stability of the country and would further strengthen inter-ethnic relations;

G.  whereas every candidate country has its own particular level of progress and dynamics of accession; whereas the EU has a responsibility not to leave any country behind and the credibility of the EU accession process can be compromised by continued delays in opening accession negotiations;

H.  whereas the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was among the first countries of the region to be awarded candidate status, is the country with the highest domestic public support for EU accession and has now been the subject of a positive recommendation from the Commission to set a date for the start of EU accession negotiations for three successive years;

I.  whereas all candidate and potential candidate countries should be treated in the integration process according to their own merits;

1.  Reiterates its call on the Council to set a date for the start of accession negotiations with the country without further delay;

2.  Shares the assessment made by the Commission in its 2011 progress report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as regards the country's continuous fulfilment of political criteria; regrets that the Council did not follow the Commission's recommendation for the third consecutive year and did not decide to open the accession negotiations with the country at its meeting on 9 December 2011;

3.  Stresses the importance of the country's European integration process and of all efforts to support this aim, in particular the start of pre-screening of harmonisation of legislation with the acquis and the implementation of the second phase of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement;

4.  Is concerned, while not wishing to hold back welcome progress towards EU accession made by other countries in the Western Balkans, that the perception of the country's progress being ‘overtaken’ could hamper continued improvements in inter-ethnic relations in the country and that the failure of any country in the region to achieve steady progress towards EU accession ultimately poses a threat to stability and security for them all;

5.  Points out that, while every candidate country has its own particular level of progress and dynamics of accession, the EU has a responsibility not to leave the country behind;

6.  Notes the comment made by the Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy on 5 September 2011 that ‘the positive recommendation of the European Commission is not inscribed in stone’; points out, nevertheless, that the decision of the Council not to follow the recommendation of the Commission has triggered legitimate frustration and dissatisfaction in the country's public opinion and notes that the EU and its Member States must never take for granted the European perspective of any applicant country and must show equal efforts towards accelerating the accession process in a true spirit of partnership;

7.  Welcomes the appointment of the new Head of the EU Delegation and hopes that this appointment will strengthen relations between the EU and the country;

8.  Welcomes the commencement on 15 March 2012 of the High Level Accession Dialogue with the European Commission as a step forward in the EU accession process, which aims to take forward the reform agenda through a substantial exchange of views and regular technical consultations in five key policy areas – freedom of expression, rule of law, public administration reform, electoral reform, and the economic criteria; shares the view of the Commission and of Government authorities that there is a need to focus the dialogue on chapters 23 (Judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (Justice, freedom and security), which will further advance the degree of application of EU accession criteria and standards; expects that this advanced form of a dialogue will continue in other areas crucial for EU accession process; considers that this dialogue will create a new commitment to reforms and strengthen our relationship through biannual political level meetings;

9.  Recognises that membership of NATO and membership of the European Union are both essential to the Euro-Atlantic approach adopted by the country, and notes that the NATO Summit in Chicago in May 2012 as well as the launch of the High Level Accession Dialogue and the June 2012 European Council provide further important opportunities for additional progress; recalls the recent statement by the NATO Secretary General that an invitation will be extended to the country as soon as a mutually acceptable solution is reached on the name issue;

10.  Reiterates its call on the authorities and the media to work towards the creation of a positive atmosphere that will help to develop relations with neighbouring countries and not encourage hate speech;

11.  Notes the decision of the government formed in July 2011 to apply the Amnesty Law to the four war-crimes related cases which were returned to domestic jurisdiction from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2008; asks the government to investigate alternative options to ensure access to justice and reparation for the victims of these crimes and their families consistent with the obligations of international humanitarian law;

The name dispute

12.  Notes the decision of the International Court of Justice with respect to the name dispute issued on 5 December 2011; takes the view that this decision should give a new impetus to ensure that every possible effort is made to solve the name dispute under the auspices of the UN, and calls on the parties to comply with the judgment in good faith and use it to intensify dialogue, stressing at the same time the need for a mutually accepted compromise; welcomes in this regard the statement by the UN-appointed mediator and his call on the parties to view this event as an opportunity to think constructively about their mutual relationship and to consider a renewed initiative with a view to reaching a definitive solution to this issue;

13.  Strongly regrets that the name dispute is continuing to block the country's road to EU accession and thus hindering the enlargement process itself; underlines that good neighbourly relations are a key criterion for the EU enlargement process and calls on the governments concerned to avoid controversial gestures, controversial actions and statements which could have negative effects on relations;

14.  Reiterates its call on the Vice-President/High Representative and the Commissioner responsible for enlargement to facilitate an agreement on the name issue and offer political guidance; takes the view, moreover, that the country's leadership and the European Union should consistently explain to the public the benefits of the solution when it is agreed, ahead of the referendum on the issue;

15.  Regrets the omission of the term ‘Macedonian’ in the Progress Report 2011 and since 2009 despite the fact that it is the norm in references to the country's language, culture and identity in United Nations texts; draws attention to the negative reactions that this aspect has provoked in public opinion this year and calls on the Commission to take this into consideration when preparing future reports; recalls that the Ohrid Framework Agreement is based on the principle of respect for the ethnic identity of all communities;

16.  Emphasises the importance of maintaining the ‘momentum’ of the accession process; in this connection, welcomes the offer by the government of the country to set a deadline for a successful resolution of the name dispute at the latest before the end of the screening process to be undertaken by the Commission as soon as the negotiations begin; believes genuine efforts by the government and delivery of EU reforms across the full range of relevant issues can help create a political environment conducive to overcoming bilateral issues, as demonstrated by other enlargement processes; points out that the parallel process of solving the bilateral issue and pursuing the accession negotiations, on the same basis as the Slovenia-Croatia model, will be beneficial both to the country and to the EU;

17.  Reiterates its call on the Commission and the Council to start developing, in accordance with the EU Treaties, a generally applicable arbitration mechanism aimed at solving bilateral issues between enlargement countries and Member States;

Parliamentary cooperation

18.  Welcomes the election of the new parliament and the swift creation of the coalition government, resulting from the early parliamentary elections; calls for the strengthening of political dialogue, drawing attention to the parliament as a key democratic institution for discussion and resolution of issues resulting from political differences; notes that the National Assembly's resolution welcomed the recommendations of this year's Progress Report and was adopted by consensus; calls on all political actors in the country to redouble their efforts to proceed with necessary reforms, including the effective implementation and follow-up of the Commission's recommendations;

19.  Congratulates the country on the conduct of the early parliamentary elections of 5 June 2011 and welcomes the OSCE/ODHIR's assessment that they were competitive, transparent and well-administered throughout the country; draws attention, however, to some shortcomings and calls on the authorities to follow up on the recommendations of the international community, in particular the conclusions and recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, and of the domestic observers from the association Most, such as updating the voter list, guaranteeing balanced coverage by the press, including by the public broadcaster, of both the government and the opposition parties, protecting civil servants against all kind of political pressures, ensuring the effective monitoring of party financing and transparent public funding, arrangements for out-of-country voting, and fully respecting separation between state and party structures; calls on the relevant authorities to address these issues in the near future;

20.  Welcomes the ending of parliamentary boycotts and believes the further strengthening of democracy in the country can only be achieved by an enhanced spirit of political dialogue within established democratic institutions, incorporating all political parties; calls for the parliament's overseeing role vis-à-vis the government and its agencies to be strengthened; calls for the necessary finance to be made available and for the necessary additional staff to be appointed to enable the full establishment of the Parliamentary Institute; encourages the progress made through the establishment of parliamentary oversight hearings and supports further efforts from the European Union to provide technical assistance to the National Assembly to develop its practices; encourages the continuing work of the Joint Parliamentary Committee with the European Parliament;

Economic development

21.  Commends the country for its good economic performance and for maintaining macro-economic stability; congratulates the government on being the third most successful country in the world over the past five years in undertaking regulatory reforms according to the World Bank ‘Doing Business’ Report; notes that the global economic downturn has affected Foreign Direct Investment, which remains at a very low level; believes that the potential for investment, trade and economic development remains a decisive argument for pursuing the country's accession to the EU;

22.  Notes that legal predictability and efficient enforcement of laws are essential for further enhancement of the business environment for domestic companies and foreign investors; calls on the government, therefore, to accelerate efforts to ensure an effective and independent judiciary, as well as a professional, competent and impartial administration, including steps to strengthen the independence and capacities of regulatory and supervisory agencies;

23.  Recognises the challenges of high unemployment and poverty, which continue to represent a major burden on the country; welcomes the debate on a minimum wage that is currently taking place in the parliament; recalls the low standing of the country in the UN Human Development Index and welcomes the adoption of the Strategy against Poverty and Social Exclusion; stresses, while calling on the government to make more efforts to address structural unemployment and protect vulnerable groups, that only sustainable economic growth through the creation of an environment that encourages businesses to invest more can be a solution to the serious problem of persistently high levels of unemployment in the country; to this end, urges the government to support small and medium-sized enterprises by facilitating access to finance and encourages it to continue its good practice of consulting business community representatives;

24.  Welcomes the fact that the country has moved up 40 places in the Transparency International anti-corruption index over the last five years; commends the amendments made to the legal framework for anti-corruption policy in line with GRECO recommendations; shares the Commission's view, however, that corruption remains ‘a serious concern’; urges continued efforts to establish a track-record for achieving convictions on a non-partisan basis in cases of corruption, particularly at a high level and in key areas of concern such as public procurement; underlines the need for greater transparency as regards public expenditure and the funding of political parties; calls on European Union investors and businesses trading with the country to play a greater peer leadership role in speaking out against corruption with their local partners;

25.  Notes the finding of the Progress Report that the independence and impartiality of the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption remains fragile; calls for stronger legal and institutional protection of whistleblowers; welcomes the new Criminal Procedure Code adopted in the framework of the wider Criminal Justice Reform, which should improve the investigative procedures for complex organised crime and corruption cases; welcomes the appointment from next year of an investigative team working directly for the Public Prosecutor and hopes this will enable more cases referred by the Commission to lead to actual convictions; calls on the government to provide the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption with the necessary funding and staff; emphasises that political will is crucial in dealing with systemic corruption;

26.  Notes the adoption of a wide-ranging legal package aimed at further strengthening the efficiency and independence of the judiciary; welcomes in this regard the efficient work of the Academy of Judges and Public Prosecutors and the implementation of random distribution of cases; encourages the authorities in charge to continue implementing legislation to combat corruption and improving the independence, efficiency and resources of the judiciary; draws attention to the importance of the court system functioning free from political interference; welcomes the efforts to increase the efficiency and transparency of the court system; stresses the need to build up an enforcement record of prosecutions and convictions against which progress can be measured; calls for the unification of jurisprudence in order to ensure a predictable judicial system and public trust;

Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA)

27.  Congratulates the country on the 20th anniversary of its independence and on the 10th anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in 2011; stresses that the agreement can be a model of successful resolution of inter-ethnic conflicts while preserving the territorial integrity and reforming the structures of the state; stresses, nevertheless, that further and even stronger efforts are needed in order to achieve full reconciliation between the parties and lay down the basis for the consolidation of non-partisan and interethnic democratic institutions;

28.  Commends the Prime Minister's speech of 5 September 2011 welcoming multiculturalism as the country's social and political model, underlining the need to implement the OFA and setting the objective of ‘integration without assimilation’; supports the commitments made towards a second decade of implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement;

29.  Acknowledges the recent adoption of several laws, in particular the amendments to the Law on Languages and the use of symbols; calls for active support in all localities for Committees for relations amongst communities;

30.  Notes with concern the use of historical arguments in the current debate, including the phenomenon of ‘antiquisation’, which threatens to increase tensions with neighbour countries and create new internal divisions;

31.  Emphasises the need for adequate preparation and operational organisation of the census in accordance with the law and Eurostat standards; calls on the government to present a credible plan for implementation of the process; notes the importance of the 20 % threshold for triggering certain rights under the OFA, but insists that no form of discrimination can ever be justified vis-à-vis the Albanian or any other minority ethnic community on the basis of their numbers in the population;

32.  Calls for significantly enhanced efforts to combat separation between children of different ethnic groups in the education system, while supporting the right of all to education in their mother tongue; to this end, underlines the importance of developing new textbooks aimed at improving mutual understanding and ending the harmful practice of ethnic shifts still present in some schools; calls, in view of the crucial importance of education to the country, for more support to be provided to it from the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, provided that educational segregation is effectively dealt with;


33.  Supports decisive steps towards political decentralisation in the country, which has been described by the government as the ‘main pillar’ of the OFA and is in the interests of good public administration; welcomes the approval of action plans to achieve this;

34.  Endorses the Commission's recommendation for stronger impetus to be given to the decentralisation process; calls for a significant rebalancing between central and local budgets to achieve this decentralisation; stresses the importance of transparency, objectiveness and impartiality in the distribution of grants to municipalities; expresses its concern that some municipalities will experience financial troubles due to lack of financial management capacities, and urges the government, where necessary with support from the Commission, to provide them with adequate technical assistance;

35.  Commends the successful cooperation programme between municipalities, assisted by the UNDP, and calls for the EU to step up its support for this practice;

Fundamental rights

36.  Is deeply concerned about recent developments in the media and the fact that media ownership remains opaque and highly concentrated; urges the country to demonstrate an absolute commitment to media freedoms and pluralism, including informed and pluralistic debate about the reform issues identified in the Progress Report; welcomes the invitation to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media to take part in the newly established Round Table on freedom of the media and endorses her statement that, while all the media outlets must comply with the legal and financial rules for doing business, media critical to one party must not be particularly targeted by the legal system; urges the authorities to ensure respect for the rule of law and media freedom in the country and thereby ensure that the Commission's assessment remains positive in the future;

37.  Calls for the equitable and transparent distribution of government advertising revenues between all national broadcasters without any consideration of editorial content or political inclination; endorses the Commission's recommendation for action to ensure that the state television channel fulfils the objectives and plays the impartial role of a public service broadcaster; calls on the authorities to adopt the necessary changes so as to align the Law on Broadcasting with EU legislation;

38.  Calls for efforts to avoid abuse of libel actions against journalists for political reasons; welcomes the recent announcement by the Government that the defamation law is to be removed from the penal code and the pending lawsuits against journalists suspended; stresses that media freedom is the cornerstone of democracy and an imperative for any country aspiring to become an EU Member State; shares the view that the media sector should elaborate and implement high professional standards for journalists and adhere to the rules of journalistic ethics; calls on the authorities to draw up anti-trust legislation in the field of the media, as well as measures to prevent political influence in the media sector;

39.  Welcomes the fact that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is generally ensured; encourages the government to continue its efforts of strengthen anti-discrimination policies, emphasises the importance of preventing discrimination on ethnic grounds, including discrimination against citizens expressing openly their Bulgarian identity and/or ethnic background;

40.  Welcomes the establishment of an Anti-Discrimination Commission this year and calls for the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency and in the Equinet Network of European independent anti-discrimination agencies to fully support and cooperate with its work; welcomes the fact that three complaints of alleged discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation brought forward by the Coalition for Sexual and Health Rights are being investigated by the Commission;

41.  Calls for the strengthening of anti-discrimination policies and the effective implementation thereof, including more efforts to protect the rights of women and children, as well as those of disabled people; welcomes the active and effective role of the Parliamentary Women's Club, but is concerned by still low participation of women in political life at local level, and considers that education programmes aimed at involving women in civil and political life should be enhanced and implemented; calls for further efforts to deinstitutionalise disabled people; welcomes the parliamentary ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 7 December 2011;

42.  Is concerned that only limited progress has been made regarding gender equality and women's rights; encourages the government to make gender equality a political priority and to increase support for activities and initiatives aimed at combating discriminatory customs, traditions and stereotypes that undermine women's basic rights;

43.  Reiterates its call for the Law on Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination to be amended to prohibit discrimination on all grounds, which is covered by Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and underlines that this is a prerequisite for accession; expresses its concern about university and school text books which describe homosexuality as a disease and calls for their immediate modification; calls on the Commission to develop capacity-building programmes aimed at strengthening civil society, including the LGBT community;

44.  Welcomes the country's current chairmanship of the Decade of Roma Inclusion and hopes this will further inspire progress in integrating Roma in political, social and economic life; welcomes the progress in the integration of Roma in the education system, with increased enrolment in secondary and university education, as well as improved representation of Roma in the civil service; draws attention, however, to the Commission's conclusion that continued efforts are necessary to foster trust, especially in the areas of education, culture and language; reiterates its concern about the very difficult living conditions experienced by the Roma community and the fact that they continue to face discrimination in access to education, the labour market, healthcare and social services; draws attention to the particularly difficult situation of Roma women and children living under the poverty line and calls on the authorities to take immediate steps to address this issue;

45.  Welcomes the adoption by the government of the Strategy on Social Inclusion of Roma 2012-2014; points out, nevertheless, that there no state funds have been allocated for the implementation of the measures under the relevant action plan in 2012 and, in this connection, calls on the authorities to find the necessary resources;

46.  Calls on all stakeholders to promote and contribute to the development of an independent, pluralist, interethnic, intercultural and non-partisan civil society within the country; underlines, however, that, in order to play that role, civil society organisations need to be considerably strengthened and to become independent of external influences, in particular of political interests, and that this is generally not yet the case in the country; calls for domestic finance to be made available to non-governmental organisations in order to end over-reliance on foreign donors;

47.  Believes, nevertheless, that the EU's Civil Society Facility has the potential to dramatically enhance exchanges between NGOs, businesses and trade unions in the country with partners in EU Member States for their mutual benefit and with the direct aim of enhancing the EU accession process; to this end, calls on the Commission to expand financial support from the Pre-Accession Instrument to enhance the development of non-governmental organisations in particular;

48.  Underlines that the country has ratified the eight core ILO labour rights conventions; is concerned that only modest progress has been made in the field of labour rights and trade unions; calls on the authorities to further strengthen labour and trade unions rights; in this connection, encourages the government to ensure sufficient administrative capacity to allow proper implementation and enforcement of labour law; points to the important role of social dialogue and encourages the government to step up its ambitions and establish an all-inclusive social dialogue with the relevant partners;

Justice and Home Affairs

49.  Notes the progress made in the reform of the judiciary; congratulates the Academy for the Training of Judges and Prosecutors, now enjoying its fifth anniversary, on its work; is concerned at the shortcomings of the Law on Judges, in which there is leeway for political influence through dismissal procedures, but recognises that there is consensus on the need for more objective criteria in this respect; stresses, while welcoming the new focus on the performance of judges, that this cannot be achieved without equal commitment to the quality of judgments, including a commitment to continuous training and merit-based recruitment procedures, and to the principle of judicial independence;

50.  Is concerned about the reports of ill-treatment by the police, and calls for their thorough investigation, in particular with regard to the tragic incident on the election night and claims that a full investigation was not undertaken at the crime scene; underlines the importance of ensuring the independence of police control mechanisms, in particular the Sector for Internal Control and Professional Standards in the Ministry of the Interior;

51.  Encourages the steps being taken to improve the situation in prisons, such as new training and professional development courses for prison staff, the construction of several new prisons to replace old ones and the initiative to draft the law on probation in an effort to address overcrowding; encourages continuing progress in improving prison conditions and calls for specific attention to be given to juvenile detention facilities and to the Progress Report finding that the unit to combat ill-treatment is unable to fulfil its mission;

52.  Commends the cooperation with the European Union on the fight against organised crime and terrorism and welcomes the agreements on judicial and police cooperation signed with neighbouring countries; welcomes the conclusion of an operational agreement between the country and Europol in order to significantly facilitate the exchange of analytical data and improve the fight against organised crime and terrorism; notes the Act of Systematisation and the changes it introduces into the Organised Crime Department of the Ministry of Interior to improve its functionality and integration into the national and international criminal investigation intelligence system; welcomes the new Criminal Procedure Code, which should improve the investigative procedures for complex organised crime and corruption cases; insists that surveillance must be carried out in proportion to the genuine threat to public security, with enhanced judicial control and strengthened parliamentary oversight of intelligence and counter-intelligence services;

53.  Encourages the authorities to complete the long overdue announcement of names of agents affiliated with the former Yugoslav secret services as a major step towards breaking with the Communist past; encourages strengthening the mandate of the Data Verification Commission, notably its independence to disclose its findings directly to the public and the transfer of all necessary documents on a permanent basis to the Commission's premises;

54.  Notes the measures taken to manage migration flows more effectively, in particular by addressing concerns about false asylum seekers; expresses concern, however, about the use of profiling and calls for the strict application of the principle of non-discrimination in such measures; calls for enhanced efforts to implement rights of citizenship for eligible refugees and for asylum applications to be processed in timely fashion and in full compliance with international human rights law;

55.  Welcomes the fact that the country's citizens have benefitted from visa liberalisation since December 2009; commits to defend the visa-free regime as a cornerstone of relations between the country and the European Union, as well as a significant measure to further promote and strengthen people-to-people contacts;

Public administration

56.  Welcomes the adoption of the updated Public Administration Reform Strategy up to 2015 and the entering into force of the Law on Public Servants in April 2011; urges the government to further harmonise the legal framework in the area of civil servants and public employees, including by amending relevant laws; emphasises the further steps which need to be taken with a view to ensuring a professional and impartial civil service, including at municipal level; welcomes, in this respect, the establishment of a High Administrative Court and encourages the institutions responsible for public administration reform to contribute to accelerating the reform process; insists that appointments on merit and not according to political affiliation can and must be achieved in parallel with efforts for equitable representation;

57.  Commends the government on the progress in the area of regional development and in preparing the transfer of management of funds under the IPA; notes with satisfaction the accreditation of national authorities for the IPA components on transition assistance and institution-building, regional development, human resources development and rural development; calls on the government and the Commission to speed up the necessary work with a view to transferring management of the remaining IPA component on cross-border cooperation; reiterates the importance of the IPA as a key tool designed to assist the country in preparing for EU membership, and encourages the government to further enhance inter-ministerial coordination so that the country can fully benefit from available resources;

Other reform issues

58.  Welcomes the campaign on energy efficiency and expects more effective measures to promote renewable energy, in line with the country's potential; underlines the importance of effective implementation of legislation in the field of the environment, in order to protect natural resources, in particular water; notes that the country has not yet undertaken pledges in relation to Greenhouse Gas Reduction and that there is a need to raise the national debate on the negative consequences of climate change; calls for more efforts to align national legislation with the EU acquis in this area;

59.  Welcomes the progress made in modernising transport, energy and telecommunications networks and, in particular the efforts to complete Corridor X; in view of the importance of the railway links as an alternative to road transport, welcomes the government's intention to upgrade or construct the railway links from Skopje to the capitals of the neighbouring countries and calls for finalisation of the railway connections within Corridor VIII;

60.  Expresses its disappointment at the lack of progress in joint celebrations of common historic events and figures with neighbouring EU Member States, which would contribute to a better understanding of history and good neighbourly relations; encourages the establishment of joint expert committees on history and education with Bulgaria and Greece, 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;

61.  Encourages continuing efforts to implement the Bologna process in higher education and cooperation with other countries in the region in order to promote the quality of universities; recalls the importance of the principle of academic freedom;

62.  Congratulates the country on the strong performance of its team in the European Basketball Championship 2011;

63.  Welcomes the high level of alignment between the country and EU Common Positions in the field of foreign policy; encourages the country's efforts to establish good relations with its neighbours; welcomes the fact that the demarcation of the border with Kosovo in 2009 has enabled closer relations and, as of September 2011, an agreement on joint border controls; anticipates that this agreement will be fully operational in the near future; congratulates the authorities on the recent successful organisation of the Meeting of Ministers of EU Integration from the Western Balkans in Skopje;

64.  Underlines the importance of regional cooperation as an essential part of the process of moving towards the European Union; welcomes the steps towards facilitation of freedom of movement in the region, embodied in the treaty with Albania and Montenegro allowing their citizens to cross borders and travel freely within the three countries, simply with identity cards; encourages the extension of the initiative to other countries of the region;

65.  Welcomes the country's international involvement in several important activities, such as taking part in the EUFOR Althea Mission, its chairmanship of the European Cooperation Process 2012-2013 and its full cooperation with the ICTY;

o   o

66.  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.

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