We support North Macedonia’s NATO, EU aspirations: President Duda

North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski heard it loud and clear during his official visit to Poland on Tuesday. “We, Poland, support” North Macedonian’s NATO and EU membership ambitions, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said.

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“This is a time when North Macedonia is, in a manner of speaking, at the doorstep of NATO accession – something that we expect… in a matter of weeks,” President Duda said during a press conference.

President Pendarovski said that he expects the procedure of ratification of his country's membership in NATO to be completed next month.

"If everything goes to plan concerning the political process, around March 10 that process should finish. There will remain some technical details that our parliament in Skopje will have to deal with," Mr Pendarovski said.

President Duda went on to say that “this is also a time when North Macedonia applies for the opening of negotiations on its EU accession,” adding that he reassured his counterpart that “we, Poland, support” these ambitions.

“We believe that the doors to EU membership should remain open to all countries that want to join and to societies that want to enter the EU and belong to it,” said President Duda, adding that this was very important, given the UK’s recent departure from the EU.

Following the meeting, President Pendarovski tweeted: “I thanked President of Poland Andrzej Duda for always being a partner in our Euro-Atlantic integration. We appreciate the support for the launch of EU accession talks and stand ready to enhance the bilateral relations, as well as a future NATO member-state.”

“I would love Polish entrepreneurs to invest more strongly in North Macedonia,” said President Duda, adding that “it is an attractive European market. It is a developing market on which our presence is weak and it is worth paying attention to investment opportunities in North Macedonia. The prospects on this market are very good and the prospects of its development are also very good.”

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The visit

Accompanied by the Northern Macedonian First Lady Elizabeta Pendarovska, President Stevo Pendarovski began his visit to Poland on Tuesday morning with an official welcome by Polish President Andrzej Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda.

This is the first official visit of the North Macedonian president to Poland since 2007. On the eve of his arrival in Poland, Mr Pendarovski tweeted expressing his hopes “for fruitful talks with my host [President] Andrzej Duda reflecting the friendly relations between our countries and peoples.”

Tuesday abounds in high-profile events. The visit is an opportunity to sum up numerous initiatives undertaken by Poland for the Western Balkan countries in 2019, including the Polish presidency in the Berlin Process instrument, which aids cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkan states.

A friend on the road to Western Balkan states’ EU accession

Poland has been working as a catalyst of Western Balkan states’ EU accession. Speaking in the Albanian capital, Tirana, Polish President Andrzej Duda said in May, 2019 that Poland did “not accept a situation in which Western Balkans states are taking part in a race, that does not have a finishing line,” referring to their lengthy accession process.

Having met in December 2019, the V4 (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia) states’ FMs expressed their support for solidarity with the countries of the Western Balkans, as well as with countries belonging to the Eastern Partnership.

According to President Duda’s aide Krzysztof Szczerski, the talks will include topics that "require a political commitment on both sides, such as the issue of the migration crisis in Europe and the issue of ensuring greater security on the so-called Balkan route."

“The Western Balkan Route has been one of the main migratory paths into Europe, reflected the influx on the Eastern Mediterranean route. However, after the record number of arrivals in the European Union in 2015, the number of illegal border crossings on this route has been falling steadily,” European Borders and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX wrote.

“In 2018, the number of irregular migrants detected on this route halved from the previous year to 5,869. Most of the migrants detected on this route in 2018 came from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran,” the agency wrote.