Thank you very Prime Minister, dear Zoran,
I come as a friend and as a partner. And I am very pleased to visit Skopje the same month that you celebrate the 30th anniversary of your country. So again, congratulations and thank you very much for the very warm welcome. And thank you for bringing me here to this youth cultural centre to see what we can achieve together. It was heart-warming and moving to see the young people who get a perspective for their future careers or who are ambassadors for the European Union with so much dedication, so much motivation. It is a place that is like a symbol. Outside, at the door, I have seen ‘Le Petit Prince’, ‘The Little Prince’, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And that is a tale of friendship, basically. So this symbol, that is also one that unites us, the European Union and North Macedonia.
Indeed, the future of North Macedonia is in the European Union. We want you by our side. And the European Commission and me, myself, we are firmly standing by this commitment. You can rely on us. You have made outstanding progress and taken courageous decisions. And I really want to commend you for that, I want to praise you for that. And I want to be very clear, now it is for the European Union to deliver.
The European Union and North Macedonia are already joining forces. For example, now fighting COVID-19 on two strands – the fight is not over. On one hand, we have to speed up vaccination. We have to overcome the pandemic. And on the other hand, we have to strengthen our economy that has been badly hit by the lockdowns and by the paralysation of the overall global economy.
So Team Europe is by your side in that, too. We have donated 275,000 vaccine doses to North Macedonia. And I know, at the very beginning that was a slow process. It was hard to get going. Now we have delivered and more is to come. You can rely on that. But we also know, it is not only the vaccines that are important but it is vaccination.
So here, I want to call on all to get vaccinated because it is so important that you not only protect yourself through the vaccination, but that you also protect your beloved ones, others. Because we do not want to have a pandemic of the unvaccinated with all the risks of variants. So here are now the vaccines and it is so important really to overcome this pandemic by getting the vaccination that is necessary.
I really want to commend North Macedonia that you have been the first country in the region to join our EU Digital COVID Certificate. So congratulations on that. We know how important tourism is in the region. This beautiful region I could see while driving through it. And I am sure that the COVID-19 Certificates are also bringing back the tourists. And it eases of course the travel from North Macedonia, for example to European Union countries, without any difficulties if you have the double vaccination.
On the recovery: The European Union is investing significantly to address the emergency of the crisis that COVID-19 has created. And we mobilised a lot of funding in the European Union. We also mobilised EUR 3.3 billion here of support for the region. And indeed, as you said, North Macedonia has received EUR 220 million in grants and financing. This was so important for the medical supply you needed but also for the wider regional economic recovery package, and to support the healthcare system.
Now, that is the crisis right now. Now, we also have to look forward in the economic sector. We want a lasting recovery in North Macedonia because, just like in the European Union, the people of North Macedonia, the youth of North Macedonia I have just met, deserve a greener, a more digital future. And that is something we can build together. And I very much welcome the launch of your green deal campaign. I commend you for that. This is bringing you closer to the European Union. It is protecting our common resources and it is about a prosperous future. So plenty of opportunities for good jobs, for well-paid jobs that are so important here in the region.
This is also what the economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans is all about. As you know, we put EUR 9 billion on the table. And what we need, and we have started that work, is, from your side, quality, mature projects that you decide on, that you design. And with that, we can leverage up to EUR 20 billion on top. So this is a common work that we started this year already. We started this year with
EUR 500 million in investments. And I am very glad to announce that, as things are progressing so smoothly, we are able to put up another EUR 600 million this year for the same cause. So the projects are good, we need more of that and then we can make this plan a success, and that is a joint success.
We have been working hand in hand on the best projects. Just to give you an example, the gas interconnections with Kosovo and Serbia, or the solar panel plant – that are all of great potential.
And for us is important that this economic and investment plan really brings jobs to the region and growth to the region. Because that is important for the integration within the region. And I think that the six partners must move forward quickly on the common regional market, that is key for the success of our plan. And a speedier progress of course also speeds up the European Union accession process.
And a word on that, this is a topic, indeed, I discussed at length with you, with your government, the Ministers. And as I said, I fully support – fully support, from the bottom of my heart – the formal opening of the accession negotiations. You have a partner in me, a strong supporter. And I want these accession negotiations opened with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible. I call on you not to lose faith. We have gone so far, you have gone such a long way, you have made so much progress. I really commend you for that. Now let us go this extra mile, it will really pay off. And as I said, you have our full support – you have many, many friends in the European Union and in the Commission – and let us work hard, so that we reach our goal to have the first Intergovernmental Conference before the end of the year, that is our common goal.
I really commend you also on the progress that North Macedonia has done on EU-related reforms, in particular on the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime. It is so important to keep this momentum and continue with that. And I am sure, this will be rewarded. Now I am very much looking forward to seeing you again next week at the EU-Western Balkans Summit, we will have in Slovenia. There also, we will chart the course of our common future.
And I also want you to fully take part in the Conference on the Future of Europe because North Macedonia has a lot to contribute. We have seen the young people, we want to hear their voices. It is their future, they should shape the Conference on the Future of Europe because it is their and our common European future.
And on the very last note on youth: Indeed, I am very happy today to hand over to you the grant of EUR 2.6 million for your successful achievements with the EU4Youth budget support. The programme has supported many unemployed young people and has given them a perspective. So what could be better than investing in youth and in our common future?
Source: Statement by the President: visit to North Macedonia (europa.eu)
Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/nl/photos/ohrid-noord-macedoni%c3%ab-dorp-4725866/