Foreign Ministers of Slavkov Format Countries Hold Talks with Key Political Actors in North Macedonia

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: July 16, 2023; 21:16 ♦ (Vindobona)

Foreign Ministers Jan Lipavský, Miroslav Wlachovský, and Alexander Schallenberg held talks with representatives of the government, parliament, and parliamentary opposition in Northern Macedonia. The aim of the ministers' visit within the framework of the Slavkov format countries was to support North Macedonia on its way to the European Union and to listen to the views of key political actors.

The visit of the three foreign ministers of the Slavkov Group was made on behalf of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. / Picture: © BMEIA Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres / Gruber / Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The ministers visited northern Macedonia at a time when the country is discussing constitutional amendments, the approval of which is a condition for further progress in accession negotiations with the EU. The ministers were acting on behalf of the Council of the EU and under a mandate from EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

The foreign ministers held talks with the Foreign Minister of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, on the ongoing reforms on the road to the EU, the steps North Macedonia is taking to promote good neighborly relations and the impact of Russian aggression against Ukraine on EU enlargement policy. "I appreciated that North Macedonia is fully aligned with the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, including sanctions against Russia. I also congratulated Minister Osmani on North Macedonia's successful chairmanship of the OSCE," said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský.

The foreign ministers of the Slavkov format countries were also received by the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, and held talks with the Speaker of the Parliament of North Macedonia, Talat Xhaferi. In meetings with the leader of the strongest opposition party, Hristijan Mickoski, as well as government and opposition members of the Parliament of North Macedonia, the Slavkov Format ministers inquired how their countries can contribute to the resolution of the internally sensitive issue of constitutional change, for the good of Macedonian society.

"The current geopolitical situation is an opportunity that Northern Macedonia can take advantage of," emphasized Czech Minister Lipavský. Slovak Foreign Minister Wlachovský in Skopje, "We appreciate the progress North Macedonia has made in the EU integration process, but it must not slacken now, but build on the results achieved."

"Northern Macedonia has all the prerequisites to become a member of the EU, it is already one of our closest partners in the Western Balkans. Its NATO membership also shows that it is a successful story. We appreciate the progress that Northern Macedonia has made since 2017. It has even been strengthened by the change of the country's name, which is unique even in the world. However, now it is necessary to move on, build on the results achieved and consistently implement the reforms," urged Foreign Minister Miroslav Wlachovský.

He stressed that all political actors should contribute to moving the country forward on the path to EU membership, as this is a strategic choice of the vast majority of the citizens of Northern Macedonia. At the same time, the Slovak Foreign Minister reminded that candidate countries must solve their bilateral problems before joining the EU. It is also unacceptable to bring issues of history into the accession process or to question a country's identity or language.

"We will continue to support North Macedonia regarding steps related to EU accession. A stable and developing Western Balkans is also in Austria's interest. And we should also not forget that North Macedonia is an important ally in clearly condemning Russian military aggression and supporting Ukraine," Miroslav Wlachovský added.

Foreign Minister Schallenberg insists on necessary reforms for EU accession

"We have a very clear and simple message: northern Macedonia is not alone - you have our full support and backing for your path to EU integration. But this also means that there is a decision to be made. The constitutional changes required for EU accession are a matter of all or nothing. The amendments are vital," Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg stressed at the press conference in Skopje.

The agreed amendment to the law provides for the recognition of minorities, especially Bulgarian minorities, in the country. Even though the vote on the reform is a purely internal Macedonian matter, it is an important step on the road to the EU that will eventually open the door to accession negotiations. This would mean that northern Macedonia's 18 years of efforts would finally lead to concrete results.

Significance in the EU's Geopolitics

Especially in times of Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine, which also poses a major security threat to the Western Balkans, EU integration is an important means to strengthen security and stability.

Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine has dramatically changed the geopolitical context and poses a security threat to both the EU and the Western Balkans. The region is already exposed to a variety of destabilizing factors. The best antidote is to firmly anchor Northern Macedonia and the entire region in our EU family. Under no circumstances should the Western Balkans fall behind and become a playing field for other powers, the Foreign Minister stressed the urgency of the decision.

The trip was also an expression of strong support for Northern Macedonia and the Western Balkans. The three Slavkov foreign ministers sent a clear signal that North Macedonia has allies and these allies will support the country on its way to the EU. All three states are also part of the Friends of the Western Balkans group, launched by Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, which advocates accelerated, gradual EU integration of the Western Balkans.

After mandated trips to the South Caucasus in June 2021 and to Montenegro in December last year, this is already the third EU mission of Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg. Trips, which are carried out based on a mandate from the EU's foreign policy representative, are intended to strengthen the EU's foreign policy engagement and underscore the EU's united presence abroad.

Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe Integration and Foreign Affairs

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic