Today, we are glad to be able to welcome an important milestone in the relations between Albania, North Macedonia and the EU. The two intergovernmental conferences (IGCs) between the EU and its member states on one side and Albania and North Macedonia on the other, mark a long-overdue formal start of accession negotiations with these two countries, also sending an important positive message to the rest of the Western Balkans.
We commend Albania and North Macedonia for fulfilling all the conditions set for opening accession negotiations. We especially congratulate North Macedonia for the outstanding efforts it has made in fostering good neighbourly relations. We stress that this important part of accession negotiations should be conducted bilaterally, in good faith and mutual respect from both sides, while all obstructive blockages of the negotiation process by member states of the EU should be avoided.
As soon as the first clusters of negotiations open, the EESC is willing and ready to launch civil society joint consultative committees (JCCs) with the organised civil societies of Albania and North Macedonia. We expect from the Albanian national authorities to elect the representatives of these bodies in a transparent and inclusive manner, while the authorities of North Macedonia have already done so.
We also reiterate our call to the Council of the EU to grant visa liberalisation to Kosovo⃰ citizens more than four years after the positive assessment of the European Commission on the matter. It is also vital that concrete steps are taken by the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the implementation of the priorities set by the European Commission for the country to obtain EU candidate status. This would provide hope to its citizens who are currently massively leaving the country and searching for a better life elsewhere.
Tangible benefits for the citizens of the Western Balkans, especially young people, should be at the heart of the EU's enlargement policy. The EESC's recent opinion Youth Policy in the Western Balkans clearly spells out that the future of youth of the Western Balkans is an integral and inseparable part of the future of Europe. We look forward to discussing this important topic with our partners from the region at the EESC's High-Level Civil Society Western Balkans Conference to be held on 16 September 2022 in Prague, during the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The EESC will continue to cooperate with and provide full support to organised civil society from the Western Balkans.
Christa Schweng, president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
Dimitris Dimitriadis, president of the Section for External Relations (REX)
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.