Organized one day before the crucial decision in the European Council on starting accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, the event in Vienna highlighted the impressive progress the social democratic government of North Macedonia has achieved since taking office.
Dr. Maria Maltschnig, Director of the Renner-Institut and Eva Ellereit, Director of the FES Skopje office opened the event underlining the important momentum for North Macedonia and the region to come closer to the European Union. It was social democratic commitment and determination to European values, that had brought about this important progressive reform agenda in Skopje. Progressive voices and organizations from within the EU not only welcomed, but strongly supported this change. The event looked back at the challenging and dangerous years of crisis and the remarkable change the new government managed to bring to the country starting in mid-2017. The panelists stressed the necessity of positive signals by the European Union to keep up optimism and the will to reform in the region.
Prime Minister Zaev referred to achievements made through the Friendship Agreement with Bulgaria and the name change by way of the Prespa-Agreement, which solved a dispute with Greece that had lasted for decades. But Zaev’s government also pushed domestic reforms concerning concentrating on social and labor policies in North Macedonia, as well as the country's accession to NATO. He emphasized the power of the desire to join, which was the condition for passing difficult and painful reforms. More than 70 percent of people in North Macedonia supported European Union membership but if there was no progress in this regard and the European council failed to acknowledge the reform progress, populism and nationalism would rise again and would stall the progress achieved so far.
MEP Andreas Schieder, underlined that all groups in the European Parliament as well as the European Commission supported the start of accession talks and now that North Macedonia had delivered on implementing reforms, the European Union should make a step forward. Stefani Spirovska, representing the young people of North Macedonia, declared their big support for the European Union and warned that if the accession talks would not begin, optimism would fade and more young people would try to become a member of the European Union by leaving the country.
The panel discussion concluded that in order to keep up optimism in the region, support for the European Union and democratic developments, the accession negotiations must start. There was a need to reform the process of accession to the European Union but that could go hand in hand with the process of accession negotiations. Regardless of the Council’s decision, the work that lies ahead of North Macedonia was already carved out. However, accession talks with the EU would be a much-needed catalyst to speed up reforms and to secure their implementation.
The video of the event is available here.