Second Meeting of the EU-Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Stabilisation and Association Council
The Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) between the European Union (EU) and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia held its second meeting on Monday 18 July 2005.
The meeting was chaired by Ms Ilinka Mitreva, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The President of the Council, Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister for Europe of the United Kingdom led the EU Delegation. Mr Olli Rehn, Commissioner for Enlargement, Mr Hans Winkler, Secretary of State in the Ministry Foreign Affairs of Austria, and Mr Stefan Lehne, Director at the EU Council Secretariat also participated in the meeting.
The SA Council recalled the conclusions of the European Council of June 2005. It reaffirmed its commitment to full implementation of the Thessaloniki Agenda, which emphasises that future of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is within the European Union. Referring to the application for EU membership, the SA Council noted that the Commission is preparing its Opinion and is having an intensive dialogue with the country‘s authorities for that purpose.
The SA Council reviewed progress by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia within the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), in particular the progressive implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and the European Partnership Action Plan. The EU stressed the need to intensify reform efforts, and ensure effective implementation. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia reiterated its commitment to speed up the necessary reforms for further progress towards the EU, including achievement of candidate country status.
The SA Council acknowledged the contribution made by the SA Committee and its subcommittees, as well as by the Joint Parliamentary Committee.
The SA Council took note of the completion of internal procedures for the entry into force of the Protocol adapting the SAA following the latest EU enlargement, as well as the entry into force of the Protocol to the SAA on the conclusion of a Framework Agreement on the participation of former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the Community programmes. The SA Council welcomed the initialling of the Protocol to the SAA on imports of sugar into the Community.
The SA Council reviewed the political situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The EU welcomed the completion of the legislative agenda of Ohrid Framework Agreement. It underlined, however, the need for continued efforts in terms of implementation of adopted legislation. Welcoming the start of the decentralisation process on 1 July 2005, the EU invited the Government to ensure smooth and sustainable transfer of power to the local authorities. The SA Council noted the state of play in the reform of the police and judiciary, the fight against corruption, the reforms in the administration, and the EU underlined the need for determined action to meet European standards.
The SA Council noted that ensuring free and democratic elections, in accordance with international standards, is an essential requirement for closer relations with the EU. In this context, the EU urged the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to implement in a timely manner the recommendations made in the final report of the OSCE-ODIHR on the spring local elections, so that the electoral process is strengthened and in the next elections in 2006 irregularities are not repeated. The EU welcomed action taken to bring all those responsible for irregularities to justice and the intention of the Government to implement electoral reforms.
Concerning the economic situation, the EU noted continuous progress in ensuring macroeconomic stability, although serious weaknesses in the business climate remain to be overcome and the level of foreign direct investment remains low. The SA Council welcomed the ongoing efforts of the Government to counter the high unemployment rate, to revive the economic growth and improve the business environment through labour market reforms, strengthening the administrative structures for investment promotion and protection, SMEs development, etc.
Aware of the importance of the liberalisation of the visa regime between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the EU, the SA Council noted the proposal tabled by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for defining in concrete terms the conditions that would lead to facilitation and full liberalisation of the visa regime. The SA Council recalled the Thessaloniki Agenda, which foresees discussions on visa issues and related reforms. In this context, the SA Council noted the decision of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to temporarily lift the visa regime for all citizens of the EU.
The SA Council commended the continuing efforts by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in developing constructive relations with the countries of South Eastern Europe and its active participation in regional co-operation initiatives. It welcomed the entry into force of the bilateral co-operation agreement with Croatia in the context of rapprochement and accession to the European Union, being the first bilateral convention on regional cooperation, as foreseen in the SA Agreement.
The SA Council referred to the Community financial assistance allocated to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the year 2005, in the amount of € 34,5 million, intended to support its European integration reform agenda, as well as an additional € 2,8 million for cross-border co-operation. The SA Council welcomed the Government commitment to prepare itself for the future introduction of a decentralised system for management and implementation of EU assistance.
The SA Council agreed to adopt a joint statement on the fight against terrorism and on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The SA Council exchanged views on the developments in the Western Balkans. The EU commended the continuing contribution of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to regional stability and welcomed its progressive alignment with EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.
The SA Council was informed about the discussions concerning the EU 2007-2013 Financial Perspectives. In this regard, it welcomed the intended introduction of a new Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance aimed at supporting the reform efforts of the candidate and potential candidate countries for EU membership.
The EU informed about the outcome of the European Council concerning the ratification of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.