High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell started his visit to the Western Balkans in Skopje, North Macedonia on 13-14 March.
The visit came against the backdrop of the barbaric aggression by Russia to Ukraine. In his meetings, High Representative Borrell expressed great appreciation to North Macedonia’s clear condemnation of the Russian aggression and firm support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. The high representative welcomed North Macedonia 100% alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, including all sanctions on Russia.
The High Representative confirmed to his interlocutors the EU’s and his personal commitment to support a democratic, prosperous and secure Western Balkans region whose future lies in the European Union.
The High Representative met first with President Pendarovski. The President has been vocal in countering disinformation and toxic propaganda. The EU and the Western Balkans will step up cooperation on cyber security and the fight against disinformation. The High Representative informed he will propose to allocate new resources to enhance security and defence in the region.
At the meeting with Prime Minister Kovačevski, the HRVP welcomed the new impetus between Sofia and Skopje for reaching a mutually acceptable solution. As the High Representative said: “It is high time to resolve long standing bilateral issues and start as soon as possible the EU accession negotiations.“ At the meeting, also with Deputy Prime Ministers Maricikj and defence minister Petrovska, the High Representative and Prime Minister also discussed the economic situation in the country, energy and reforms. The High Representative stated that the EU stands by the region and work is ongoing on how to integrate better and involve more the region in EU initiatives to address the economic impact of the war, eventual future shocks and allow economic recovery.
HRVP Borrell praised North Macedonia’s alignment with all EU declarations and sanctions against Russia with Foreign Minister Osmani and expressed gratitude on the country’s contribution to EU CSDP missions and operations to Defence Minister Petrovska.
The High Representative met with Speaker of the Parliament Xhaferi and representatives of the parliamentary parties. As former member of the Spanish Parliament and President of the European Parliament, the High Representative praised the role of the parliament in a democracy and asked political representatives to work together across the political divide to move the country forward in these trying times.
Finally, the High Representative met with representatives of civil society organisations and youth from the Western Balkans who, over the past year have contributed to the Conference on the Future of Europe. Participants provided the High Representative a handover of their work giving practical ideas on democracy, rule of law, green growth. They demonstrated the commitment of the people of the Western Balkans to build a peaceful, prosperous and united common continent. As the High Representative said to the participants: “The Western Balkans are an integral part of the future of Europe. Your future is our future.”