Foreign Minister Zaharieva Hails EU Strategy for Western Balkans

Sofia, February 13 (BTA) - Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva commented that the EU Strategy for "A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans" was very timely. She participated in a discussion on "The Future of the Western Balkans and the New Strategy for EU Enlargement" at the House of Europe in Sofia.

Zaharieva noted that the Strategy has many positive aspects - it is timely, comprehensive and inspiring. It is also a very fair document because it spells out the challenges facing each individual country. This is a long-term document which holds out, rather ambitiously, the prospect of membership to the six Western Balkan countries by 2025. At the same time, the Strategy states clearly that there will be no compromise on the accession criteria.

Setting a prospective date can be stimulating, according to Zaharieva, who called the Strategy "an open and fair" document. She expressed satisfaction that the Strategy focuses on young people and the creation of jobs, entrepreneurial and digital skills.

Zaharieva commented there were two kinds of fatigue: enlargement fatigue among quite a few citizens and political elites of the EU Member States, which may be due to the numerous problems the EU has encountered in recent years, and reform fatigue and loss of faith in some of the applicant countries.

She stressed that Bulgaria's EU Presidency has set a very high priority on the European perspective and connectivity of the Western Balkan countries. She is confident that this focus on the Western Balkans will not end when Bulgaria's EU Presidency is completed in June 2018.

Andreja Stojkovski, President of the Centre for European Strategies - Skopje, said it should be explained to the EU why it will benefit from the accession of the Western Balkans. If the EU does not settle this matter, it will never be a global player, he said. The Bulgarian EU Council Presidency is a very appropriate time and Bulgaria has tapped this opportunity to become a regional leader.

Taking a question about Macedonia's name dispute, Zaharieva said she was glad that Athens and Skopje had made progress in their negotiations. She stressed that this is a bilateral issue to be settled by the two countries.

Answering another question, Zaharieva said the invitations to the applicant countries to join councils and expert groups sent a signal that they should be proactive participants in the EU's future policy even during the pre-accession process.

Source: Sofia