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President Lambertz calls on EU to launch accession talks with North Macedonia  
The President of the European Union's assembly for cities and regions has voiced support for North Macedonia's bid to join the EU. During his visit to Skopje on 17-18 September, Karl-Heinz Lambertz of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) also urged municipalities in North Macedonia to support the country's accession drive by continuing reforms and exploring further cooperation with cities and regions in Bulgaria and Greece.

President Stevo Pendarovski, Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani, Minister for Foreign Affairs Nikola Dimitrov and Minister for Local Government Goran Milevski all met President Lambertz, who said he had chosen to visit North Macedonia to highlight that EU local and regional leaders support the launch of EU membership talks with North Macedonia. President Lambertz was hosted by Petre Shilegov, the Mayor of Skopje and President of the Association of Municipalities (ZELS), and Blagoj Bochvarski, Mayor of Shtip and co-chair of a committee created by the CoR and local authorities of North Macedonia.

During his meetings, President Lambertz urged North Macedonia to press ahead with their decentralisation process, arguing that effective reform at the municipal level would improve public services, increase citizens engagement in the EU, and could – he hoped – dispel any uncertainty about the country's readiness for EU membership.

President Lambertz said: "I am full of admiration for the efforts taken by North Macedonia to resolve its long dispute with Greece. The Prespa Agreement was a historic breakthrough and the EU's member states should now start EU accession talks with North Macedonia in October. The central government is also showing support for decentralisation, an open recognition that joining the EU requires a significant role by municipal authorities."

President Lambertz's trip comes just a few weeks before EU member states are due to decide at a summit in mid-October, whether to open talks with North Macedonia, as advised by the European Commission.

"The government", President Lambertz said, "should not only take the necessary steps towards membership, but also take advantage of the opportunities offered by the EU. The EU invests in cross-border cooperation programmes with potential new members, so we hope North Macedonia will continue to develop cooperation with its neighbours."

Stating his personal gratitude, Deputy Prime Minister Osmani, as chair of the euro-integration process of the country, expressed his appreciation on behalf of the Republic of North Macedonia for the support during this key period. "After yesterday's call by the EU Council President Tusk to start accession negotiations, today we are honoured that the President of the European Committee of the Regions – representing EU local and regional governments and their constituents – has also sent a message from Skopje about the progress our country has made in EU integration and giving his support for opening talks ahead of the important decision in October"

North Macedonia and Bulgaria have had cross-border programmes in place since 2007, and the cities in North Macedonia are part of a European partnership, EPICURO, working on increasing their capacity to cope with natural disasters. Mr Lambertz particularly advocated the use of a mechanism called the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), which currently gives a legal basis for 74 groupings of cities and regions to cooperate across borders. For this, North Macedonia needs to put in place legislation to enable its cities and regions to participate in EGTCs and to create Euroregions.

The European Committee of the Regions and the municipalities of north Macedonia set up a joint consultative committee where local and regional governments share experiences in managing local services such as waste management, and discuss the challenges and opportunities linked to effective decentralisation of power.