Estonia has joined a joint statement on the EU's commitment to the European integration of the Western Balkans.
"We, the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, Hungary, the Republic of Bulgaria, the Italian Republic, the Republic of Malta, the Republic of Austria, the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Slovenia, the Republic of Poland and the Slovak Republic reiterate our continued support for the Western Balkans on their European path," the joint statement reads. "The EU enlargement process has a positive transformative power in the Western Balkans and is an investment in peace and stability in Europe. It is essential to ensure the overall progress of the region. The EU needs to fulfill its unambiguous commitment to the Western Balkans European integration. There is no 'Plan B.'
"Given the importance of their decision for the future of all the states and peoples in Europe, we call upon members of the European Council to make far-sighted, bold decisions in June, which would promote continuous reform progress in line with EU standards and values, as well as strengthened regional cooperation, reconciliation, good-neighborly relations and crucial support for the irreversible peace, stability and development of the region and our continent," the declaration reads.
"Ahead of the General Affairs Council this June, we appeal to all EU stakeholders to maintain and consolidate the positive momentum by opening accession negotiations with the Republic of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia," the signatories said. "We are determined to live up to our responsibilities and react positively to the progress made by both countries.
"Recalling our General Affairs Council conclusions of June 2018, which set out the path towards opening accession negotiations in June 2019 as well as the previous documents commonly agreed, we call upon the members of the Council to implement the relevant recommendations of the European Commission, live up to our commitments, and ensure the credibility of the EU enlargement policy based on clear conditionality and the own merits principle, strengthen the EU's credibility in the international and institutional dimension, as well as safeguard the EU's leverage in the region, recognize the remarkable efforts and progress made by the Republic of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia in adopting and implementing necessary reforms and, in the case of the Republic of North Macedonia, also acknowledge the historic importance of the agreements with the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Bulgaria, which set an example of addressing open issues for the region and beyond," the joint statement read.
In the joint statement, the foreign ministers also call upon members of the European Council to recognize the enlargement policy as the most successful tool for promoting EU standards and values and for fostering prosperity, democracy and stability in the region, continue supporting the clearly defined EU membership prospect, which is the driving force for implementing demanding reforms and solving outstanding bilateral issues in the Western Balkans, and recognize the enlargement policy's irreplaceable impact on the process of strengthening Europe.
Thus, the signatories call upon members of the Council to support making decisions on launching talks with the Republic of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia this month.
"The start of the negotiations process will enable these two countries to focus even more on necessary reforms, while the EU will obtain a valuable tool for scrutinizing their individual progress," the joint statement reads. "Furthermore, the launch of accession talks with the Republic of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia will serve as an important motivational factor for the whole region. It ensures a win-win situation.
"Starting the negotiations in June 2019 will also contribute to strengthening countries' resilience to external, detrimental interests of other players and ensure that the EU continues to be the leading player for positive regional transformation," the signatories said in the declaration.
Editor: Aili Vahtla