Macedonia and Europe
In addition to the remarks of Ambassador Alexandros Mallis and me, last weekend’s conference of the Democratic Union for Integration in Skopje heard from Pieter Feith, now associated with the European Institute of Peace. Here are his speaking notes:
1. Salute President Ahmeti. Thank you for fourteen years of friendship and your responsible leadership following the signature of the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Thank Artan [Grubi] for inviting us and for organizing the convention. We are together in the midst of national controversy and possible upheaval. Time for serious, but also constructive forward looking discussion. Ready to advise and help all political forces in the country.
2. Europe is facing serious, existential threats. We therefore have a collective responsibility to maintain stability and prosperity in this neighborhood. MK [Macedonia] not on top of the international agenda, which in a way is a good sign. But if anything, Europe doesn’t need another crisis in the Balkans right now.
3. After 23 years independence and thanks to the leadership of this party and its chairman, Macedonia achieved number of successes:
• Dealt with serious ethnic divide in 2001, successfully avoided sustained ethnic violence.
• Started with low socio-economic base, progressively applied reforms and was recognized as EU candidate.
The perspective of membership of NATO and EU is still open.
Now time for looking ahead in the interest of the country and the contribution the party can make.
4. Today, Macedonia faces number of challenges:
1. resolving the name issue hampering Euro-Atlantic Integration efforts. This is urgent and justified, but not an excuse to slow down domestic reform process; remind that in 2012 Štefan Füle proposed accession negotiations to start running in parallel to name dispute negotiations.
Opportunities to close the matter were missed in the past – by both sides. Given the internal situation in Greece and Macedonia, the outlook for making progress in the short term seems, realistically speaking, less than promising. Please do not link this issue with the reform process, in the interest of your country and people.
2. dealing with institutional weaknesses common to neighborhood;
3. improving inter-ethnic relations as tensions persist;
4. as of late, serious weaknesses in rule of law, democratic governance and parliamentary dialogue. The institutions of the country, in particular an independent judiciary and the Parliament, should deal with this.
5. Current political situation is:
• Followed with concern by international community, including the three EU institutions – Council, Commission and the European Parliament – and of course by the US; they are aware of the need for outside help.
• On the international side, there is willingness to facilitate an inclusive national dialogue in order to revamp the democratic process. Inclusive means with the participation of your party, DUI. The Parliament must resume its democratic functions without boycott or other forms of obstruction and, together with an independent judiciary, exercise democratic oversight over an accountable executive.
In the longer term, Brussels will expect from the Macedonian political leadership strong national commitment to integration and good neighborhood policies. This should be done, as a matter of priority, by removing remaining domestic challenges to accession talks. President Ahmeti’s remarks reassured me that he is ready to do so.
6. Let us look once again at the October 2014 EC Progress Report:
• Recognized high level of alignment with legislative acquis; and recommended opening accession negotiations.
• Outlined three serious challenges:
o “increasingly divisive political culture”;
o “fragile inter-ethnic situation”;
o “politicization” and government control over state institutions and media.
7. Under the present circumstances, removing technical obstacles to accession negotiations should be the strategic priority for the short and medium term;
Include particular attention to Copenhagen criteria:e.g. democracy, rule of law, human rights, respect for minorities and media freedom.
• Continue to secure the support of the international community.
• In so doing and tactically, Macedonia can narrow down the constraints to moving towards opening accession negotiations.
• Let me highlight two issues:
8. Gaps in implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement:
• Decentralization process requires funding and effort to strengthen administrative capacity of some municipalities:
• Education reforms require increased political support and state funding:
• Another census or administrative registry is needed, at the appropriate moment.
• The OFA Review – stocktaking of implementation of all requirements needs to be finalized and published.
• We, the European Institute of Peace (EIP), stand ready to assist the government, the communities and civil society in their efforts to improve the Commission’s assessment in its next Progress Report.
• We also need to prevent the current crisis spilling over into the ethnic divide. The EU has given EIP its full support in helping facilitate the inter-ethnic dialogue.
9. Good neighborly relations:
o Good relations with Western Balkan neighbors, but relations with Greece and Bulgaria remain strained.
o Positive developments towards finalizing the bilateral treaty with Bulgaria.
o Agreed are questions related to protection of minorities and use of languages;
o Outstanding is the issue of shared historic narrative.
10. In closing: Need for national unity and consensus:
As the president of DUI said just now: The party faces a dilemma. Co-governance in a coalition will help ensure respect for the Ohrid requirements. Justifiably, you are keen to preserve the Ohrid legacy. But it also imposes responsibility and accountability for the whole range of government policies. You cannot remain silent. Therefore I urge you to continue to speak up on the democratic values, norms and principles for which you stand. For inter-ethnic tolerance and reconciliation. And to make sure the government works on the basis of consensual democracy in accordance with the Constitution.