It gives me great pleasure to address this distinguished
Parliament. I am all the more pleased as I come with a sense that you are
confident, and rightly so in feeling that you are firmly on the right track.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has gone through many daunting
challenges in recent years. And although these challenges must have seemed
insurmountable at times, you overcame them. You can be proud of what you have
achieved – and I am proud that NATO has contributed to your success.
Throughout the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was considered both fortunate and prudent. It
gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia without bloodshed; it
mastered many of the difficult challenges of this newly won independence; and
it was able to reconcile the interests of its different ethnic groups. Through
these achievements, the country gained international respect, and served as an
example to the entire region.
When in spring 2001 the former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia had to cope with a growing internal crisis, the international
community engaged, and engaged fully. No one argued that we should simply look
the other way. The country needed our support – and NATO, the European Union
and the rest of the international community took action, in cooperation with
all parties to the conflict, to prevent the crisis from escalating.
Today, there is ample proof that those efforts have paid
off. The risk of civil war has disappeared. The former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia has not only emerged from the crisis; it has consolidated its
inter-ethnic coalition, and is now generally in calmer waters. And political
differences are being dealt with in the only appropriate place: the country’s
democratic institutions. I am very pleased to see that one of the last stages
of the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement is currently being
implemented – the decentralisation of power. And I am fully confident that the
municipal elections in fall will be a success as well.
These invaluable achievements must be preserved and
nurtured. A functioning democracy is the key to this country’s success in
building peace and security at home. It remains the essential foundation for
the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s future stability and prosperity.
And it will remain the necessary precondition for its further integration into
It is my firm impression that the former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia is irreversibly set on this course. You have improved your
bilateral relations with your immediate neighbours. And you participate in
broader, regional initiatives, such as the Adriatic Charter. Neither the
tragic death of President Trajkovski last February, nor the flare-up of
violence in Kosovo in March could derail this country from its path. And I
salute you for that.
Do these achievements mean that this country faces no more
problems? Of course not. We all know that the former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia still faces significant challenges that need to be resolutely
The economic situation is a serious concern, not least
because unemployment it is a potential breeding ground for extremism of all
kinds. Economic reform must go ahead, to ensure the longer-term stability of
Ethnic reconciliation also must proceed further. Given the
memories of the conflict of three years ago, this is a tough challenge.
However, there is no other option. This country’s wealth has always been its
different cultures and peoples. Denying this pluralism would mean denying much
of this country's potential – indeed, its unique identity. That is why
equitable political representation of all ehnic groups remains a key goal that
must be vigourously pursued.
The rule of law also needs to be further strengthened. This
means fighting corruption wherever it occurs. It means fighting organised
crime, including trafficking in human beings and money-laundering. And it
means building a strong judicial system that commands the respect of all
citizens. The progress in investigating the killings near Rastanski Lozja is
an important signal in this regard.
Defence reform is another issue every country has to face.
Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the government on the progress
made in that area. The decision to conduct a Strategic Defence Review was a
major step in the right direction. Clearly, undertaking such a Review, and
doing it well, are two different things. But Allies have been impressed with
both the determination and realism with which this difficult process has been
pursued. The results set the stage for the development of a smaller but more
effective force – a force that will be able to contribute to national defence
and to deploy outside your national territory for international operations.
This latter point is particularly significant. Already
today, troops from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are serving in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Your country has also provided substantial medical and
host nation support for both NATO and the European Union. This engagement
clearly underlines this country’s determination to be a producer rather than a
consumer of security. Achieving that goal requires the full implementation of
the Strategic Defence Review.
In implementing defence reform, the former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia can count on NATO, just as it could count on the
Alliance when times were rough in recent years. Ever since NATO forces moved
in to prevent a civil war three years ago, relations between the Alliance and
the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have been progressing rapidly.
Last year, after NATO handed over its mission to the
European Union, the Alliance remained engaged in this country – as an advisor
in security matters. And to this date, civilian and military representatives
of NATO here in Skopje continue to assist with security sector reform and the
adaptation to NATO standards.
As you are all aware, we are now working towards a similar
handover in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At our Istanbul Summit next month, we
expect to announce that NATO’s mission in Bosnia – SFOR – can be successfully
brought to an end at the end of the year. The EU has already stated that it
would be ready to deploy a mission into Bosnia, in full cooperation with the
Alliance, and with NATO’s continuing support.
And NATO will remain engaged, in more ways than one. We
will retain a NATO presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina even after the handover
to the EU. We will remain involved in the search for war criminals. And we
will continue to help the country in its defence reforms. Because our goal
remains to welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina – as well as Serbia and Montenegro –
in our Partnership for Peace programme, in due course.
Our commitment to Kosovo also remains unflinching. Kosovo
remains an enormous challenge, not least for its immediate neighbours. But the
recent outbreaks of violence have only strengthened our resolve to see this
mission through. When violence flared up last March, we were able to quickly
reinforce our presence and put out the flames. And we are now far more deeply
engaged in the political process than ever before. To make my the point
crystal clear: NATO is not moving away from the Balkans. With a job still
unfinished, this simply cannot happen.
What is happening, however, is that the Balkans are
moving closer to NATO. Our Membership Action Plan is crucial in this regard.
It requires aspirant countries to set clear and measurable objectives across a
wide range of issues, including the consolidation of democratic institutions,
the strengthening of the rule of law and the improvement of good neighbourly
The MAP has been extremely effective in helping countries
to focus on key areas of reform. It has helped several Balkan countries to
chart their way into NATO. And it will help the former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia to realise that ambition, too.
You all know by now that no new invitations are expected at
our Istanbul Summit next month. This should not come as a surprise. After all,
just two months ago, NATO admitted seven new members, including several from
South-Eastern Europe – NATO’s greatest enlargement ever.
But the door to NATO will remain open. And I am certain
that the desire to walk through that door will remain a powerful incentive for
the aspirants, including this country, to continue on the path of reform. I
know this country has made lots of progress in fields relevant to defence
reform. And I expect that the NATO Summit will give a clear sign of
encouragement to your country.
I do not want to conclude without having paid tribute to
the late President of your country, Boris Trajkovski. He was an exceptional
individual. A man of strong convictions, of impressive moral authority, and of
clear vision. Boris Trajkovski used his formidable political experience to
shape a better future for his country. And he left no doubt about where he
believed that future would lie: in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s
membership of the European Union and NATO.
NATO Allies share that same goal. No one doubts that your
country’s future lies firmly within Euro-Atlantic structures. The road to
achieving this goal will still be long and difficult, but the opportunities
are greater than ever. Because today, after a period of turbulence, the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is once again an example to the entire region.
It is demonstrating day by day that ethnic tensions can be overcome through
dialogue and negotiation. And it is demonstrating that persistence and
perseverance will pay off.