The ministers of European affairs met in Brussels to prepare for the December 16th and 17th summit. One of the main topics on their agenda was the enlargement of the European Union. At the final press conference, the Secretary of State of Slovenia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gašper DOVŽAN, focused on the ministers' discussions on enlargement:
Gašper DOVŽAN, Secretary of State of Slovenia:
"We discussed enlargement. Discussions focused on some outstanding issues. I am pleased to see that there is a great deal of support for the whole enlargement process, but you know, there are some bilateral issues raised especially by Bulgaria, but I hope that in the time remaining during our presidency, we will be able to advance on this issue. This process should be positive and I hope that bilateral issues will be resolved constructively. I am speaking from experience. When Slovenia was a candidate country and was preparing to become a member of the European Union, it had to solve a bilateral problem with two member states of the European Union and in the meantime; a neighbor of ours was meanwhile negotiating with another member state. Therefore, we know how important good neighborliness is. "I hope we can take positive steps forward and we will do everything."
As regards any signs from Bulgaria of a possible lifting of the Bulgarian veto on the opening of membership negotiations with North Macedonia in December, the Secretary of State said:
"In politics it is important to be optimistic. The role of a politician is to create space for a solution. This is what we are trying to do. I do not want to speculate on how the issue of enlargement will be resolved in the end, but what is important to understand is that enlargement is a chance for everyone. Enlargement processes have provided prosperity and improved relations between neighbors, and it is important to show the benefits of EU enlargement to those forces that are skeptical of the process.
Asked about the credibility of the European Union enlargement policy created by the blocking of the official opening of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia due to a bilateral problem between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Secretary of State Gašper DOVŽAN stated:
"When I spoke about the credibility of the European Union and the enlargement process, I took it honestly and seriously. Unfortunately, over the two years for various reasons, we have not noticed any step forward. This is not just a problem of the European Union. But we need to be honest and trustworthy and take steps forward when needed. We have seen today in the debate of the ministers many positive assessments, there have been steps forward mainly in Serbia and North Macedonia and in Albania and these steps should be rewarded. We have to do our part of the job, but decision-making works in this case on the basis of unanimity rules. The process of membership negotiations is the one that enables the transformation of candidate countries and creates benefits for both parties at the negotiating table."
Ahead of the ministerial meeting, the Minister for Europe in the German Federal Government, Michael Roth, said that the current stalemate with Albania and North Macedonia poses a major problem for the credibility of the EU enlargement policy:
"We have a major problem with the credibility of the EU enlargement process, because we are not united. It is the last chance to speak with one voice. We can not start talks with North Macedonia and Albania due to a bilateral problem between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. This is a bilateral problem and must be resolved bilaterally. So we have to give a clear signal. We can not let the citizens of these countries wait. Here the European Union faces a major problem. The more democratic, stable and prosperous the Western Balkans are, the better it is in the interest of the European Union. We must show courage in foreign policy matters. ”
European affairs ministers will meet again on December 14th to discuss the possible setting of a date for holding the first intergovernmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia, and with Serbia-Montenegro. Further, the enlargement dossier will go to the table of European leaders at the summit on 16 and 17 December.