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President Donald Tusk has said that let me warmly welcome Prime Minister Zoran Zaev here in Brussels. I am very happy to have you here, not only because of our friendship but also because of the reason why you are here.

This is a good week for your country and for the Western Balkans: on Tuesday, the EU ministers set out the path towards opening accession talks with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and with Albania in June 2019. And in just a few hours, I expect that the EU Heads of States will endorse this decision.

This great achievement would not be possible without your personal dedication. It would also not be possible without the significant steps taken by your government towards strengthening democracy and the rule of law in your country as well as introducing structural reforms and reaching out to your neighbours.

For the EU as a whole, your agreements with Bulgaria on friendship and good neighbourliness, and most recently with Greece on the name issue, set an example for others in the region on how to mend relations with neighbours. This is why yesterday, I appealed to all the members of the European Council to express their univocal support for the agreement reached by Prime Ministers Zaev and Tsipras on the name issue.

During my visit to Skopje in April, I could see the political will to move on with the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration. I have no doubt that under the courageous and forward-looking leadership of Prime Minister Zaev, you will be able to keep up the pace of reforms in key areas that are important for the future of your country.

As regards the European Council, let me say this. Since 2015, we have managed to stem the migration flow by 96% per cent, only because we decided to cooperate with third countries and to block illegal migration outside the EU. Here I would particularly like to thank the Macedonian authorities for their excellent cooperation. This is why, during the summit, I suggest we focus on the EU’s external border, including the disembarkation platforms project. In fact, this would echo the UNHCR suggestions expressed explicitly in their letter, which I received yesterday. The alternative to this solution would be a chaotically advancing closure of borders, also within the EU, as well as growing conflicts among EU member states. Some may think I am too tough in my proposals on migration. But trust me, if we don’t agree on them, then you will see some really tough proposals from some really tough guys.

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