80-90 percent of Macedonians is for the EU and also NATO membership, said Vasko Naumovski, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Affairs in the Macedonian government when he, on November 17, spoke at a breakfast meeting arranged by Hjalmarson Foundation. Vasko Naumovski spoke in reference to the European Commission’s annual Enlargement package, presented on 8 November, and the progress made in Macedonia. “Sweden welcomes the accession negotiations with Macedonia,” said the Foreign Ministry and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt at the time when the EU report was released.

A group of diplomats and moderate members of Parliament were invited to listen to Vasko Naumovskis views on EU membership. The picture he gave was multifaceted. On the one hand, the Macedonian progress is mainly in the political sphere, on the other hand, Greece still stalling the membership negotiations. This applies to the name Macedonia, which also is the name of a province in Greece:

“It is as if Russia would oppose Europe called Europe since much of Europe is in Russia. Or that Moldova can not be called Moldova since there is a province in Romania with the same name”, said Vasko Naumovski. When asked what the name issue means for ordinary people in Macedonia, he replied: “In opinion polls 80 percent of the respondents answer that national identity is more important than membership in the EU and NATO.”

Vasko Naumovski added that he and his government is certainly willing to compromise to resolve the name issue; to overcome this obstacle to EU membership. And by the way, he said, this was already done in 1995 when Macedonia changed its flag. He was cautiously optimistic, explaining that today the Prime Ministers of both countries meet to talk. This was unthinkable just a few years ago. Nothing concrete has yet come out of this. “But of course we are willing to compromise!”

Citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina possessing biometric passports will be able to travel without visa to the Schengen area.

This decision will enter into force the day following the publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. “The visa-free regime is the best proof that reforms at home bring tangible benefits for citizens and progress in relations with the EU. We can build on this in order to further the reforms needed to bring the two countries closer to their European aspirations”, said Mr Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy. With this decision, the two countries join the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia who have already benefitted from the visa free regime since 19 December 2009.

 

 

Standing are Minister for Foreign Affairs Antonio Milošoski from Makedonien (to the left) and Genc Pollo, Minister for Innovation and ICT in Albanien.

May 7-8, the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation arranged a round table conference on the EU integration of the Balkan countries. The participants were high level politicians from the Foundation’s sister parties in four Balkan states. The group consisted of some 20 politicians including two ministers – the Macedonian Minister for Foreign Affairs Antonio Milošoski and Genc Pollo, Albanian Minister for Innovation and ICT.

Among the issues discussed at the conference were membership and security in the Balkan region. Göran Lennmarker, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs and the Chairman of the Foundation, reminded the participants that although the path to a membership may seem endless to the Balkan countries, the situation was once the same for the Baltic states. Today, those countries are all EU-members.

Numerous participants noted that Sweden is the most enlargement-friendly member of the Union. In addition, they emphasized that this, the third Balkan conference arranged by the Foundation, constituted an excellent opportunity to “openly discuss problems and exchange experiences among friends”.

The participants discussed obstacles on the path to  full EU membership – such as bilateral conflicts. Nevertheless, the participants agreed that there is indeed a development in the right direction.

– Since we met last time, we have achieved visa freedom for, for example, Serbians, said Nikola Lazic, Serbian parliamentarian and International Secretary for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS).

The participating parties where Albanian Partia Demokratike e Shqipërisë, Bosnian Partija Demokratskog Progresa and Stranka Demokratske, VMRO-DPMNE  from Macedonia and Serbian Demokratska Stranka Srbije and G17Plus.

 

The Swedish government has decided to strengthen the Swedish presence in the Caucasus and in the Balkans. Today it was decided that the current offices in Pristina (Kosovo), Tbilisi (Georgia), Chisinau (Moldova) and Tirana (Albania), that up until this point have been administered from neighboring embassies, will be upgraded to embassies.

In Western Africa, offices will also be turned into embassies in Bamako (Mali), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and in Monrovia (Liberia). The same goes for the office in Kigali (Rwanda), La Paz (Bolivia), and in Phnom Penh (Cambodia). Along with this decision the Swedish government has decided that the embassies in Bratislava, Dakar, Dublin, Ljubljana, Luxemburg and in Sofia will be closed.

– Within the framework of close cooperation between the EU member states, there are great possibilities to develop new ways of bilateral contacts in the future, says the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt in a comment published by the Foreign Ministry. 

– To turn the Secretariats’ into embassies is a step towards, supporting the Swedish development efforts within certain countries. It is also a step on the road to further strengthening our long-term cooperation with these countries. A stronger presence is crucial for an effective collaboration with superior results, according to Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation.