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High-level MINEX Europe Conference in Macedonia Indicates Growing Interest in Balkan Mining Investment

By Chris Deliso

From June 12-14, Skopje hosted the MINEX Europe 2018 conference, bringing together leaders in government, the mining industry, finance, science, academia, diplomacy and more, representing over 80 organizations. As was repeatedly discussed by conference speakers and participants, the decision to hold the conference in Macedonia (and next year, in neighboring Bulgaria) owes to a common industry and finance perception that the Balkans represents one of the major investment areas for the sector in the years ahead.

The conference included two full days of presentations and panel discussions, a VIP dinner plus British Embassy reception and visit to the Bucim Mine near Radovis for some guests. The event was opened with a speech from Macedonian Vice-Premier Kocho Angjushev, followed by British Ambassador Charles Garrett, speaking on behalf of the UK mining trade delegation, and then the Belgrade-based Canadian Ambassador, Kati Csaba, who spoke on behalf of the Canadian mining trade delegation. At present, UK and Canadian firms are showing increased interest in Macedonian mining operations and finance opportunities.

The MINEX conference put Macedonia’s considerable mining potential on the map for a diverse and expert audience with experience in mining around the world. The event was considered highly successful by participants: a general survey of attendees indicates that some 96 percent were more than satisfied with the conference, including over 74 percent who were ‘very satisfied’ with the event.

Focus on Environmental Protection and Sustainability

The conference’s first session was devoted to sustainable mining solutions. This would be a recurring theme throughout. Many conference speakers, beginning with the emphatic keynote address by Angjushev, underscored that mining investors must commit themselves to following best practices in protecting the environment and working sustainably.

This has become a particularly sensitive issue in Macedonia over the past year or so, as multiple referenda have been held at different current or proposed mine sites around the country, propelled by local citizens groups and activists concerned over mining’s affect on the environment in what is a largely agriculture-based country, and one with a growing interest in eco-tourism. At the same time, restrictive legislative amendments have been proposed in parliament. These current conditions have forced incestors to revise their strategies to take these concerns into consideration.

The session’s first speaker, Marcin Sadowski, discussed EU funded research and innovation going on now. The head of the raw materials sector at EASME (under European Commission), Sadowski was followed by Vitor Correia, president of the European Federation of Geologists. A Macedonia perspective on the recent challenges to mining posed by lawmakers wishing to change legislation in ways that challenge established industry practice was then provided by Nikolajcho Nikolov. As president of the Macedonian Association for Mining, and Deputy General Manager at Bucim Mine. Nikolov has appeared in local media often in recent months to explain the challenges facing the industry from activists and legislators, and educate a public that has tended to react with alarm rather than scientific awareness of modern mining practices.

Another interesting presentation that highlighted a specific current mine was that of Nick Clarke, Chairman of Central Asia Metals Ltd. In his presentation, Clarke gave an overview of the reasons for CAML’s success in its Macedonian operations at Sasa lead and zinc mine in the eastern town of Makedonska Kamenica. According to the chairman, building strong relations with the local residents and providing sustainable solutions for the general community has played a big role in the company’s success at Sasa, the workspan of which he estimated at 20 years more.

In contrast to some operators that have come and gone over the years, Clarke assured that “Central Asia Metals is a mining company. We’re not in this business to sell this mine on. We’re in the business to build a bigger and better company. Sasa was a strategic acquisition for us.” Clarke further disclosed that CAML is currently investing $12m in the construction of a new tailings facility at the site.

Finally, Clarke outlined the company’s risk assessment program, new safety improvement strategy, and environmental and social action plan (in fact, Sasa is the first Macedonian mine to achieve an environmental ISO 14001 ranking). The company also abides by the Equator Principles, which define the obligations of a mining company seeking foreign debt investment.

The second session was devoted to the topic of new mining opportunities in the country and region. Among others, Chief Operating Officer of Euromax Resources, Patrick Forward, discussed the considerable opportunities presented by the planned Ilovitsa-Shtuka copper and gold mine in southeast Macedonia. This promising site, which received EBRD funding and German state backing, has been among those slowed down by local activism and environmental concerns. Daniela Bombol, Manager at Reservoir Minerals Macedonia, followed him. The latter company too has also faced local opposition at a different mining site in Macedonia, and the issue of what can be done to alleviate local concerns and go forward remains a pressing one.

Finance and Investment Issues Concerning Mining

The critical issue of mining finance was discussed from the big-picture and case-study levels in a later panel moderated by Robert Mantse of M2 Capital Partners from Canada. Illustrating where mining stands now among financiers, the Canadian executive noted that in the first quarter of 2018, more trading volume by dollar in Canada was done for medical marijuana than for oil. In fact, this emerging industry is even becoming an issue in Macedonia, where the government legalized medical cannabis cultivation last year; not only the existence of this as an industry, but the geographical proximity of potential fields and mining sites will make this an issue to watch locally.

Mantse also added that “Southeast Europe is the next mining region globally,” noting for one example the recent $1.5bn offer for Nevsun, a Canadian mining company active in eastern Serbia. (For details of the financial complexities of this nixed offer, see this Globe & Mail article). While acknowledging the current risk factors facing the region, Mantse indicated that the PR problem facing regional mining is not localized; according to CEOs he’s talked with globally, “the mining sector does a really bad job of PR work” in general.

The session’s first speaker, Managing Director and Partner at Denham Capital’s Denham Mining Fund Bert Koth, spoke about recent strategic trends in private equity financing for mining. At $2-3tn, such financing is “not a lot,” according to Koth. The relatively small amount of private equity capital in mining, he said, is simply “because it is a pretty risk industry. Past the hype, there’s not a lot of money for metals and mining companies out there today.”

That said, private equity does have its advantages, Koth added. The obligatory differences between private equity and public market funding can make the former a better choice. Having to spend less time on investor relations (where some 50-60 percent of management time can be wasted) and different requirements regarding disclosure are advantageous. “We are not in the business of educating our own competitors,” Koth wryly noted. Private equity also allows mines to be built as planned, irrespective of commodities’ valuation cycles.

Next, a presentation on EBRD financing of ‘green and inclusive’ mining projects was given by the Bank’s Principle Banker for Natural Resources, Francisco Jose Fortuny. With its very large portfolio (10bn euros invested in 400 projects in 2017), the EBRD is Macedonia’s largest investor at the moment, Fortuny attested. However, in the big picture, mining has been rather low in the Bank’s portfolio, with only 56 projects of a total 5000 funded in the last 25 years.

According to the banker, this is “because of the low number of projects and… because they have to tick all the boxes” for the EBRD’s strict standards. “Only one in a thousand mining projects reaches financing stage,” Fortuny concluded, noting that the Bank has the most experience with (but is not limited to) copper and gold mining projects.

A local case study of EBRD involvement mentioned was Euromax, where the EBRD was satisfied with the project’s “factor of inclusion skills and training,” as well as with the company’s “commitment to its environmental and social stewardship- even above EBRD standards.” Thus despite local environmental activism, it seems clear that the mining project still bears the EBRD’s seal of approval.

Although it is not prominent in the overall portfolio, the EBRD sees the mining sector as important in development goals- “we see mining as important in industrialization of any country,” Fortuny added. “We understand there is a certain risk mitigation that needs to happen to have a social license to operate… you need inclusion and a green or environmental element.”

Another banking industry view was given by Constantin Zhydko of Societe Generale. Zhydko offered a global (and local) view of the industry, including the state of structured commodities finance and acquisitions financing. A local financing success story he mentioned was the 2016 arrangement (with local subsidiary Ohridska Banka and Investec) for financing the Sasa operation.

Among the other finance experts, Zoran Martinovski, the International Finance Corporation’s Country Manager for Macedonia and Montenegro, discussed services the IFC provides and his view of the mining sector. As the private sector arm of the World Bank group, and the largest multilateral source of debt and equity financing in emerging markets, the group currently has a $55bn portfolio present in over 100 countries.

While mining accounts for less than 4 percent of this total, Martinovski noted that it represents one of the IFC’s most profitable investment areas: “mining is a very risky business, but if you do it right there is some tremendous upside.”

At the same time, he noted that “there are very few really good deposits around the world,” and the IFC’s strict compliance criteria and preference for long-term repeat clients may make it hard to break in to a region which (along with Latin America) has seen far less IFC investment than in Africa and East Asia.

That said, the IFC is open to future mining projects in the Balkans, and can be involved at all three stages of a company’s process. It provides integrated solutions including long-term loans, equity instruments, quasi credit trade investment, risk management tools, capital market investment, and the ability to mobilize third-party investments, Martinovski added. IFC participation can provide “long-term capital which is not readily available in emerging markets,” and as a globally-known institution can be seen as “a stamp of approval in difficult times,” helping to mitigate risk.

Reducing Mining’s Environmental Footprint while Implementing Best Practices in CSR

Session 6, on reducing companies’ environmental footprint and promoting best CSR standards, followed an intriguing panel on the main reasons for mine failure in general. Regarding the environment, ERM Senior Partner Geraint Bowden argued that instead of the term sustainable mining, the industry should envision ‘the mine we want to see.’ According to him, the environmental, safety and social performance aspects of ‘the mine we want to see’ need to be fully integrated by companies.

Bowden’s ERM colleague, Chris Johnstone, then addressed the need to exceed expectations and learn from current examples. He envisioned this through processes of building operational excellent, holistic water management and engaging and preparing mine closure from the start of any given project. As a current example of this model, he cited the Devonshire Initiative, which had been previously mentioned by the Canadian ambassador. According to this scheme, NGOs and companies meet monthly to problem-solve for community and development.

According to Johnstone, the trends seen today in social performance include growing stakeholder expectation, a stress on local resources and people, and an attachment to land by local communities. Because of these issues, it has become “more incumbent on us that local communities’ expectations are met,” Johnstone added. Mining companies today are increasingly expected to procure a ‘social license,’ meaning that budgets, guidelines and standards are increasing. Noting that “stakeholder risks are material risks” too, Johnstone added that ERM research reveals 42 percent of all mining project delays stem from stakeholder concerns, including over non-technical risks. This in turn feed a “vicious cycle, for as delays go, stakeholder concerns grow.”

A case study was then discussed regarding a social closure plan that helped the local community move forward. Considering the current concerns in Macedonia over the environment and local land management and ownership issues, one case study from Senegal seemed very relevant. There, the company worked with Natural Resources Canada and the Mining Association of Canada to build understanding of the mine’s life cycle and what it meant for a local aboriginal population there.

A second case study (an ongoing job at an undisclosed mine in Latin America) bore clear similarities to Macedonia; local resistance to any mining is growing and with it, NGO opposition. The company involved recruited ERM to ask for advice. According to Johnstone, “we’re now working with them to slowly build trust, we’re slowly identifying those in the community who may want to speak.” The establishment of a regional round table will encourage local input. “Mining will be on the table, but it’s not an invitation to discuss mining, it’s an invitation to discuss development issues.” Such an approach could be ‘tweaked’ to the Macedonian context, where the ERM expert revealed that his team had already met the local Chamber of Commerce and reminded that plenty of international examples can be cited of mining co-existing with agriculture and other local industries.

One of the mines that has been beset with difficulties from local activists, the Kazandol project near Valandovo, was discussed by Igor Bogdanov, Director of SARDICH Mining. Speaking about ecology and human health issues, he underscored that despite the Macedonian government’s unexpected license revocation in March, the company would forge ahead following the same standards that have already exceeded legal requirements.

Noting that Kazandol is the first new Macedonian mine to open in 40 years, Bogdanov gave an overview of the company involved, Copin (Copper Investment), which was created in 2014 and subsequently obtained three concessions, including Kazandol. Before the license revocation, he noted, the project had passed all procedures to build a mine, with plans for further expansion.

The company has already invested 2.5mn euros a year and estimates another 1.2mn will be set aside for closure (in 20 years). According to Bogdanov, the tangible benefits to locals in Valandovo include taxes reaching around 10 percent of the municipal budget.

Since any leeching process can be dangerous, he added, companies like Copin have implemented managed leeching methods to minimize environmental risk. Nevertheless, Bogdanov stated that activists have tended to work off of “a lot of rumors, a lot of fake information about the leeching process.” Citing two examples of their major concerns, Bogdanov noted that the PH level of the sulphuric acid solution used in the mine’s operation is 2.4 percent: this puts it beneath Coca Cola (2.8 percent) and vinegar (2.4 percent). Similarly, the percentage of SO4 sulfate used as solvent is roughly half of the average used in local agriculture.

The SARDICH Mining executive also dismissed the activists’ main concern, that “huge quantities of sulphuric acid can accumulate” as scientifically impossible, and stressed that Copin’s intensively-tested Spanish insulation material is of a high quality. Further, in their initial planning, Kazandol’s design incorporated the local mountainous geography near the site, as a “natural barrier” that completely controls the leeching area, he said, ensuring that nothing harmful could get out. Site designers also took further precautions in building for worst-case seismic activity, using Macedonian and international experts to fulfill EU standards.

“Kazandol fulfills strict EU standards” regarding mine closure planning too, said Bogdanov. Before the start of production, Copin prepared a plan that will leave the local environment “better than it was before.”

Interestingly, the SARDICH Mining executive disagreed with the conference-opening claims of Macedonian Vice-Premier Kocho Angjushev that a conflict exists between mining and the local population. “My experience is that [the locals] are very friendly, or indifferent,” attested Bogdanov. “The people who create a lot of nervous energy, who call for referenda, are a very small and aggressive group- very well organized and motivated people.” However, as other Macedonian mining executives and experts have attested, these groups are small and overlap: “only 20 percent of the protesters are locals,” while the rest tend to circulate among all regional referenda and protests. And, as executives have noted, “they don’t want to hear. I would like to hold this discussion with all the activists… they were invited, but they don’t want to hear any arguments. But the regular people, when we bring real information, they understand and can support mining projects… there is a shortage of work places and they understand it is a way to a good future for the country.”

For Bogdanov, the current situation for Kazandol was quite unexpected. “When we started construction and passed many inspections, nobody made a problem, no remarks or questions were raised,” he recalled. “But in the end of March, the government unilaterally cancelled our contract, and 200 people lost their jobs. And the municipality of Valandovo cannot receive this lost money. It is a bad situation when young and well educated engineers who worked on our project are forced to go abroad,” he said. “They are the ones we need to bring country forward.”

Nevertheless, despite Kazandol’s problems, Bogdanov is confident Copin will win in local and if necessary international courts. In the end, he believes, “Macedonia will be a great mining country”- and one that will see minimal effect on environment, and possibly even leave it in a better condition than before.

Local Procurement Issues

Another topic of interest discussed at the MINEX Europe conference was the future role companies will have in the field of local procurement. Particularly in mining, the “benefits have the potential to grow exponentially,” said Borche Ilioski, Business Development and FDI Advisor at Macedonia 2025.

According to this expert, procurement processes represent an exciting opportunity for bringing the business and social aspects of mining into a better balance. Transparency in local procurement processes is of course necessary, and when done right can contribute to local sustainable development.

Public procurement of goods and services, according to the Macedonia 2025 representative, has a “potential that is much, much more than taxes, salaries and community investments combined.” This is particularly relevant in the Macedonian context. Some 73 percent of the Macedonian workforce is employed in small and medium-sized enterprises, Ilioski noted. Citing a case study mentioned earlier in the conference, he noted that when a mining company had made 500 direct hires, another 2,000 jobs were created in local companies from peripheral industries.

Among the other benefits of the increased local economic growth that comes with mining is education- skills transfer between universities and companies. Retaining local talent in various fields is key, Ilioski noted. “All stages of the mining process require professionals from different backgrounds, and provide opportunities to work with international leaders and be part of the global value chain of professionals.”

 Some Conclusions

The topics covered in the MINEX Europe 2018 Skopje conference indicated both global trends and local realities. And it showed how all aspects of the industry are interconnected, especially considering the visible concerns today – in Macedonia and elsewhere – over environmental and land use concerns, as well as transparency and governance issues. Balancing corporate decision-making with technical/scientific matters, while engaging with local stakeholders and shareholders (and often, while pursuing financing in an industry prone to commodity valuation volatility) is tricky, but it can be done.

Despite the difficulties some mining companies have encountered in Macedonia due to political risk and social opinion, the decision to host such a high-profile event in Skopje means that the industry does see a lot of opportunity in Macedonia in the years ahead. The main challenges now are likely to be in terms of public education and outreach (to diminish local opposition to mining) and getting a better sense of the local and regional political, economic and even security aspects that influence political risk and stability.

In the end, the broadly positive outlook of many participants and the decision of MINEX Europe to host next year’s event in neighboring Bulgaria indicate that investor and corporate interest in this part of Europe remains high.

Exclusive: White House, NSC neither Knew nor Approved of Ambassador Baily’s Controversial Decision in Macedonia

By Chris Deliso

Neither the White House nor the National Security Council had previously been informed that Ambassador to Macedonia Jess Baily was planning to recognize a new ‘speaker of parliament’ during a chaotic session marred by protests on Thursday night, can report.

With Obama-era Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee arriving Sunday to back Baily by giving official blessings to the US-proclaimed ‘speaker,’ this revelation raises very serious concerns about who – if anyone – is running US foreign policy, at a time when the Balkans is ready to explode amidst rising nationalism driven by unending foreign political interference. It also raises very serious questions about the damage Baily has being to American diplomacy in the country since the crisis began in early 2015.

An Embassy Gone Rogue?

The Trump White House was “taken by surprise” by the US Embassy’s decision, and the powerful NSC was not happy with the result either, high-level American officials have confirmed. Other senior sources from Europe and the US have provided valuable input that cumulatively suggests a high likelihood that Baily – the most unpopular American to ever set foot in Macedonia – has gone rogue, working in lockstep with a very small number of Obama-era State and USAID holdovers.

To date, the US Embassy has not satisfactorily replied to our queries regarding who authorized Baily’s decision – or who is responsible for DAS Yee’s imminent visit. These official written questions have gone unanswered by Embassy communications personnel. In the absence of such a response, we hope to be able to bring up the issue directly with DAS Yee during his Skopje visit on Monday.

Baily’s Controversial Coronation Announcement

The carefully-coordinated events of Thursday night saw American and European diplomats immediately congratulate the ‘election’ of Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian former UCK member nominated on 27 March by the leftist SDSM party for the speaker of parliament role- the first step required to form a government that would be weak at best. The farcical proceedings occurred by voice vote, with no written record, while a few sung Albania’s national anthem at one moment. According to local law, the speaker of parliament becomes national president in the case that the president is deposed or killed. It is not impossible that SDSM will try to impeach President Ivanov to make such a result occur. The president controls the armed forces and foreign intelligence agency.

Many local sources present during the event suspect that both the timing and provocative actions of the SDSM and Albanian parliamentarians was calculated to provoke a violent response that would then make them appear as righteous victims. The ploy, modeled on a much smaller similar event in December 2012, worked.

For Baily, sustained Macedonian pacifism had been a major irritant. The 60-day For a United Macedonia evening rallies had been completely peaceful, in contrast to last year’s USAID-directed and funded ‘Colorful Revolution’ of pro-SDSM activists. But this year’s ralliers had long threatened it would enter parliament if the opposition tried to elect a speaker without renouncing the Tirana Platform (a post-election set of maximalist ethnic demands drafted in the office of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama). This warning provided a perfect opportunity for Baily and comrades to create a scenario that would guarantee a violent outcome- and thus discredit the authentic and peaceful public protest movement.

However, it remains unclear as to who committed what violence, with partisan rivals and media presenting different scenarios and evidence. However, the international media – which largely ignored the two months of peaceful protests – have overwhelmingly endorsed SDSM’s depiction of events. And every single Western power condemned the violence, insinuating that it was a blow against democratic procedures and implying VMRO-DPMNE was guilty.

In addition to this perception management tactic, the commotion has helped misdirect scrutiny from the actions of the US Embassy under Ambassador Baily before, during and after the drama.

 Who Authorized Baily’s Decision?

With no official reply from the Embassy, it is impossible to know who – if anyone – instructed Baily to act as he did and when he did with the Xhaferi recognition process. There was no great emergency to elect a speaker, as the country has remained peaceful and negotiations are ongoing as a procedural filibuster continued. But for whatever reason, Baily was determined to obtain a result. informed the Embassy communications staff in writing that if there was no response from their side it would have to be assumed that Baily made the recognition choice of his own will. To date they have not stated otherwise,

The Mysterious DAS Yee Announcement

One possible reason for Baily’s bravado was the looming visit of DAS Yee, which the US Embassy announced in a 10:51am tweet on April 26. That was the day right before the parliamentary decision and, in the opinion of Macedonian protocol experts, extremely unusual as such visits are usually decided well in advance.

In this tweet, the Embassy announced that “DAS Hoyt Yee will travel to Macedonia on May 1 to engage political leaders on government formation, bilateral relations & reforms.” This means that as of that date, a specific scenario was already in place. Yet the Macedonian authorities were too incompetent or too timid to consider this seriously.

In addition to the protocol aberration, the wording makes the planning for Yee’s visit especially mysterious. At the time in Skopje, there was no great expectation that a government would be formed soon, due to VMRO-DPMNEs ongoing procedural filibuster, though SDSM leader Zoran Zaev had threatened he would nominate a speaker soon. There was thus no reason to expect that suddenly on May 1 Macedonian parties would be discussing forming a government with a visiting American bureaucrat.

This Embassy tweet thus helps confirm the suspicion that Ambassador Baily pre-planned the stunt at parliament to occur just in time for his immediate superior to swoop in and justify his decision.

However, with the US Embassy refusing to answer who and when at State authorized Yee’s current trip to Macedonia, it remains unclear as to whether a higher-up at State sent him- or whether Baily himself invited the caretaker bureaucrat to come and provide political cover for the controversial decision.

If no one higher than Yee himself authorized his visit, then the acting DAS is essentially coming as a tourist, and his political opinions are just that- opinions.

A State Department Understaffing Crisis and Baily’s Self-Entrapment Problem

One major criticism of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy is the unusually slow pace at which State positions have been filled, with numerous vacancies remaining. This is reportedly due in part to new Secretary of State Tillerson’s desire to restructure the department, and possibly merge USAID into it.

As the old saying goes, when the cat is away, the mice will play: the current controversial activities of the US ambassador in Macedonia may simply reflect a lack of oversight. With so many vacancies (not to mention much bigger issues like Russia, Syria and North Korea), it is understandable that senior US leaders do not have time to regulate diplomatic activities in small but volatile countries like Macedonia. But they should at least be informed of them in advance.

Interestingly enough, ranking above Mr. Yee is a very short list of current State functionaries in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (see official hierarchical list here). Ambassador Baily is subordinate to these officials and therefore must follow their policy instructions. Under the Obama administration, this was no problem, as the Democrat-led administration had an openly pro-leftist orientation. The situation is currently more confused due to a new Republican-led administration still finding its feet.

Baily’s problem, should he try to justify his authorization to act Thursday night by recourse to this list, is that if he cites one particular name, he will cause himself a much greater, and probably career-ending scandal. Unfortunately for him, Baily has chosen to trap himself in a lie regarding his own interaction with superiors that would automatically delegitimize his entire ambassadorship. He will thus probably avoid the question as much as possible out of fear for his own career.

Tactical Measures while Under Fire

With the Embassy and local USAID mission already under Senate and Congressional investigation for misuse of public funds, not to mention a Judicial Watch lawsuit against State and USAID, Baily’s only solutions are two: more violence to create further misdirection from himself (which is bad for US interests), and political cover from Yee. With allies like former State spokesman Mark Toner now gone, it will become more difficult for Baily and the Embassy to get pro-leftist endorsements from Washington regarding actions that have infuriated and alienated the majority of Macedonians since the beginning of the crisis in January 2015.

Since the election of Donald Trump, Baily has come under withering assault from local Macedonians – many, but not all, supporters of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE – and has become much less vocal than before. The Trump election reportedly terrified Baily, firstly for his own career and secondly for potential policy changes in Macedonia. However, the slow staffing at State has given him breathing room and he apparently still feels he can act with impunity.

Nevertheless, Baily has become much quieter since November 2016 and relied on ever-faithful European allies, NATO and OSCE officials, and pro-leftist media to speak for him. With the USAID investigation in Washington, Baily and the local mission have tried to utilize a feel-good campaign drawing attention to nice things the Embassy has done. This online PR exercise (dubbed “this is civil engagement” has been mocked by Macedonian critics.

Itinerary of Hoyt Yee’s Visit as a further Indicator of Political Transition Planning

The official Embassy press release regarding Mr Yee’s visit on April 30 and May 1 indicates that at least himself, Baily and their crew expect that they will be creating the conditions for a new government led by the unpopular SDSM and a collection of ethnic Albanian parties- all of which are fractured themselves. Such a government would be lucky to last six months, and would probably deepen the crisis up to the point of civil war.

There are sides which look forward to such an outcome with delight, but that is a story for another time. For now, concentrating on Yee’s itinerary reveals which power players and influencers the DAS hopes to get in line to fulfill Baily’s vision for a new and improved Macedonia. Here is the official statement from the Embassy, released on April 29 at 1:11pm:

“Hoyt Brian Yee, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, will visit the Republic of Macedonia April 30 and May 1, 2017.  Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee will meet with President Gjorge Ivanov, Speaker of Parliament Talat Xhaferi, political party leaders Nikola Gruevski, Zoran Zaev, Ali Ahmeti, Bilal Kasami, Vesel Memedi, and Menduh Thaci, as well as with representatives from the civil society and diplomatic communities.  Together they will discuss the status of government formation, bilateral relations, and the reforms needed for Euro-Atlantic integration.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Yee will give a statement to the media in the afternoon of Monday, May 1.  Please contact the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section by telephone at 070 343 304 or 070 233 145, or by email to or for additional details.”

Dangerous Outcomes for US Interests and Regional Stability

From this wording, it is very clear that the embassy in Skopje is proceeding as if nothing unusual has happened, by considers Thursday’s debacle a fait accompli. By referring to Xhaferi as the official ‘speaker of parliament,’ the Embassy is putting the State Department – and, by extension, a White House and NSC that were never informed – behind a political transition conducted outside of all parliamentary procedure and in violation of Article 82.1 of the Macedonian constitution (regarding the president’s obligation to uphold the unitary character of the state and its territorial integrity).

Thus, the outcome will either be that Baily pulls off his palace coup and leaves for a bigger and better posting, or is told to reverse course by higher-ups. It is inconceivable that, having invested his entire diplomatic efforts for three years straight to putting SDSM in power by any means possible that Baily will easily back down now. To do so would require a very strong message from the Trump Administration and be received as a total humiliation by an already humiliated and vengeful career diplomat.

The stage is thus set for either a refresh and new negotiations, or a dysfunctional, Frankenstein government that will not only fail to operate, but which will damage US relations with Macedonia and regional stability. Neighboring countries like Greece, Serbia and Montenegro are growing increasingly concerned by Albanian leaders’ demands for a ‘Greater Albania’ at their expense.

The great tragedy of such an outcome would be that it is still entirely avoidable. But unless cooler heads prevail, and popular demands for new elections and a (long-deferred) population census are met, the crisis is likely to intensify. And the US will have no one to thank but its own rogue diplomats.


Interview with Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan: Fulbright Scholar, “Rule of Law and Civil Society” editor’s note: in this fascinating new interview, Director Chris Deliso gets the insights of Dr. Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, Associate Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Professor McLauchlan’s wealth of personal experience includes having worked at the US Supreme Court, US Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, and in the White House during the Clinton Administration.

Professor McLauchlan says she has been “overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality and kindness” of Macedonians.

Since January 2017, Professor McLauchlan has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Macedonia, becoming somewhat of an American goodwill ambassador through teaching university students while traveling the country, learning more about its unique people, traditions and culture. You can follow her adventures in Macedonia at her blog, McLauchlan’s Macedonian Musings.


Background: from Graduate School to the White House

Chris Deliso: It’s nice to see you again, Judithanne. Firstly, before getting into your work here, I’d love to get some background about your fascinating life experience for our readers.

Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan: I grew up in the Philadelphia area and did my PhD in Public Law at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Then I lived in Washington DC for several years.  I worked at the US Supreme Court for the US Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 1993. And I worked in the White House after working on the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992-

CD: I recall it well! Actually, this one time we drove by a campaign rally in Vermont and they were giving out free Ben & Jerry’s [ice cream]. It was enough to win my vote. So I was in high school, and you were working in the White House at an early age. How did you get the opportunity?

JM: In my mid-twenties, while I was in grad school, I got a White House internship. In President Clinton’s first term, I started out working under the First Lady’s representative on the President’s Domestic Policy Council. This was part of the White House Office in the Executive Office of the President.  I left the White House to work on the re-election campaign, in important states like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania for the primary, and Florida for the general election.  I said mid-twenties, but eventually I celebrated my 30th birthday in the Indian Treaty Room.

CD: What an experience! What was it like, working in the White House and campaigning for the president?

JM: It was amazing! During the 1996 general election campaign I started at the state headquarters in Florida, and organized volunteers and internships at that level, and then moved to Southwest Florida- a big and challenging, heavily Republican region. But we led a very successful ‘Republican Women for Clinton/Gore’ movement. It was the first time Democrats had won Florida [in a presidential election] in 20 years.

Then I returned to the White House, starting out in Presidential Personnel. I was working with the woman responsible for education, justice, and health and human services appointees. Later I worked in Presidential Correspondence, where I directed the Comment Line, where I trained 120 volunteer operators.

CD: What is this? A service for people to call in? Some 1-800 number?

JM: Yes, any citizen could call in to express their opinion, but it wasn’t an 800 number. I was director of the Comment Line during the impeachment. We would get thousands of calls a day. President Clinton actually cared what citizens thought, and our daily reports would be sent to the Oval Office and senior staffers. So it broke my heart when President Trump closed the Comment Line.

CD: Well, possibly in the age of the internet, not as many people call in now…

JM: No, they still do! I know activists are marching and calling their representatives back home.  I was also Director of the Greeting Office. For example, someone might write in saying, “it’s my grandfather s birthday coming up, could you send a card?” And we would. I was also director of the White House’s Volunteer Program, which had 1,000 volunteers. President Clinton had promised during the campaign to cut staff by 10 percent – which he did – but that meant we had more work and less staff. President Clinton wanted to make sure that if someone took the time to write in, then he would write back, so we had a big job.

Actually, since I have been here I visited Pristina.  I wanted to see the Bill Clinton statue on Bill Clinton Boulevard. While there I delivered a guest lecture at the American Corner in Pristina, and after my lecture I donated some original lithographs of the Clintons and the White House from my time working in presidential correspondence.

Thoughts on Hillary Clinton

CD: You worked for Hillary Clinton, who as we all know has become a very polarizing figure in America. Can you give us an insider’s perspective on what the ‘real Hillary’ is actually like?

Back in the day: introducing then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in the White House Rose Garden.

JM: As you might imagine, she is brilliant. So knowledgeable. The problem [in the 2016 campaign] was that she became kind of a caricature in the media, of someone being cold or hard, and that is just not true. She is very caring and compassionate. That’s what drives her in public service.

As one example, let me tell you about the White House Volunteer Appreciation Day event in the Rose Garden. I was excited that I would get to introduce the First Lady at the event and had prepared my presentation. Just before the event Erskine Bowles, President Clinton’s Chief of Staff, mentioned that he would like to thank the volunteers for all their hard work. Protocol would dictate that I should introduce Erskine and that he would introduce the First Lady who would then introduce the President. The Social Office staff were arranging this new program, just moments before we were heading on stage.

Inside, I was panicking. And then, the First Lady turned around to me and asked, “Judithanne, is that okay with you?” And I said, “actually, I had prepared to introduce you.” She was so thoughtful to stop and to ask! And so it was agreed that we could go out of the order of protocol so that I could (as prepared) introduce her. And when, at the conclusion of my remarks, I said, “now, I’d like to introduce our most respected and our most beloved volunteer, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton,” she smiled and gave me a big hug.

My point is that Hillary cares about people- she is thoughtful, considerate, warm and caring. And, she knows how to get things done. I don’t know why the media has sometimes portrayed her as being cold. Her political opponents certainly characterize her that way. I think women candidates in general face the challenge of having to appear tough, but not too tough, and feminine, but not too feminine.

On the Campaign Trail

CD: What an interesting and insightful story. How did you go on from the White House to your future work?

JM: I left the White House in June 1999 to work on Al Gore’s presidential campaign, first in New Hampshire, and then in Maine, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Jersey, and then Oregon, where I was state director for the general election. Then I went to Florida for the recount.

CD: Wow- what historic moments.

JM: Yes. The race was really tight in Oregon. We were down in the polls the entire time I was there, mostly because [Green Party candidate Ralph] Nader was at 7%. And Oregon had just become the first (only) 100% vote-by-mail state, and when you’re a campaign director, you make assumptions and decisions based on past data. But we didn’t have such data under those conditions, and no one knew when people were going to return their ballots. And that year Oregon also saw the most ballot initiatives since the 1920s- for Democratic Party interests, you name it, there was a ballot initiative against it, whether it was anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-labor, etc.

Since these initiatives could be profoundly bad for all of our allies, they needed to be out there working to defeat them. Which took away resources from the effort to elect Al Gore.  It also felt like we were losing core constituencies to Ralph Nader.  When I would go out in the high democratic precincts, and there were Nader signs on every lawn and Nader bumper stickers on every car. I would go to the coffee shops, and people would mock me for supporting Al Gore, even the baristas saying ‘why you voted for Gore? He is no better than George Bush.’

CD: Ah, the baristas…

JM: (Laughing). Yes. There were similarities to the 2000 election in 2016 general election. It was frustrating, seeing young, anti-establishment voters supporting ‘Bernie or Bust’ or Green Party or Libertarian or other candidates.  I was thinking clearly they didn’t remember what happened in 2000. And this paved the way for Donald Trump’s electoral college win.

CD: Indeed. Though in fairness, some of them weren’t even born yet then.

JM: True!

Democratization and Political Transitions: from Moldova to Macedonia

CD: I must ask, when did you first become aware of the Balkans? Was it during President Clinton’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, perhaps?

JM: Actually, it was much earlier. I started grad school in fall 1990- right around the fall of the Soviet Union, and then the wars [in Yugoslavia] started. So it was this historic period of state breakups, re-formations and new constitutions. And I was aware of colleagues going overseas for democratization activities and helping to draft constitutions for these new states. I wanted to be a part of that, but it didn’t work out because I was soon working in Washington, DC. So it became a sort of deferred dream, which I was able to fulfill later.

Professor McLauchlan teaching US Constitutional Law to students at the State University of Tetovo, February 2017.

CD: How did that work out?

JM: Well, first I was awarded a Fulbright to Moldova. I went there in 2010, and then won a returning grant in 2012.  I later brought a group of my students from USF there in 2013.

In between, I returned in 2011 to work with the advance team for Vice-President Biden’s official visit. That was the highest-level visit Moldova had received up to that point.

CD: Wow, you’re a friend of Uncle Joe too?

JM: I love Joe Biden! If you go to my Facebook page, you’ll see some cute pictures of him with my daughter.

Support from a legend: Professor McLauchlan speaks with Bill Clinton during her Florida State Senate bid.

CD: How was the Moldova experience? You mentioned you brought some of your US students there as well.

JM: We loved Moldova, it’s such a fascinating place. I was able to bring some of my students from USF to Moldova for an ‘alternative spring break.’ It was a very exciting time- like here in Macedonia now.  There had been a political crisis for three years. In fact, just before our trip the government collapsed.  When recruiting students for the course I explained “you can go to Paris or London anytime. But this is a really historic time to go to Moldova.” And they had a great time- though they were exhausted since I packed so much into that trip.  We were doing something different from 8AM to midnight!

CD: That’s great. Did any of those former students keep up their interest in Moldova because of that trip?

JM: Yes indeed. One of them wrote her master’s thesis about Moldova, and another devoted a chapter of the master’s thesis to the country. A third student on that trip returned for an internship at the US Embassy in Chisinau and then went on to intern for the US Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, and is now working in the State Department in Washington, DC.

Coming to Macedonia

CD: Wow, what a great experience. So now we get to Macedonia. Was this your first time here? And how did you decide to come in the first place?

JM: Yes, this is my first time in Macedonia, since arriving in late January. Back in 2014, I ran for the Florida State Senate. I didn’t win, but a few months later, in February 2015, I was asked by someone with whom I had worked in Moldova, “have you ever considered going to Macedonia?” A rule of law and civil society Fulbright teaching award had been announced.

CD: Wow! What a lucky opportunity, to be told about this award that seems perfect for you.

JM: Yes indeed, when I was first thinking about it in February 2015, it was a historic moment, with the beginning of the political crisis, the wiretap scandal and so on. I didn’t know much about Macedonia at that time, but it became more interesting as I learned about the [2001 Albanian] uprising in Tetovo, and the Ohrid Framework Agreement, how it was being implemented, and so on.

Making the rounds: Professor McLauchlan gives a guest lecture at the American Corner in Stip.

Since I teach constitutional law, civil liberties and civil rights, I thought the Fulbright award here would provide a great opportunity to learn about the protection of ethnic Albanian rights. I expected the Albanian dimension could provide an interesting comparative aspect for my work on other minority rights in the US. But back then I didn’t really predict the whole experience would be as interesting as it has been, and that the issues would come to a head as they have.

CD: Indeed, all very relevant topics. But obviously, you didn’t come at once-

JM: No, I applied in August 2015 for the Macedonia Fulbright award. It takes a year for the process to play out – so grantees are not usually notified until later in the spring of the following year (Spring 2016) for the following academic year (2016-17).  I wanted to be in the US for the presidential election, which is why I started here in late January 2017. With the traditional Fulbright Scholar program, you can choose a one-semester award or two-semester award.  It has been such a wonderful experience that I wish I could stay for the whole year, but my family obligations prevented me from being away for that long.

Settling In and New Discoveries

CD: How was it, getting accustomed to life here? Were there any surprises or things you hadn’t expected?

JM: When you first move to a new country, there is obviously an adjustment period, but it hasn’t been too difficult. It’s kind of funny.  Now there are things I have grown to love which I won’t be able to get back home, like a good macchiato. At first it was hard, as I wanted to find a latte or brewed coffee like in the US. But now I love Macedonian macchiatos. So when I go home, I will miss Macedonian macchiatos.

CD: I miss root beer.

JM: (Laughing) Yes, you don’t see root beer here. I don’t drink soda back home, but now I am a big fan of Schweppes Bitter Lemon-

CD: Yeah, you can’t ignore the Bitter Lemon.

JM: And, about things I hadn’t expected… well, I naïvely thought from the cursory glance I had had at the Ohrid Framework Agreement, that the issues there were all settled. I was surprised, once I came here, that after more than 10 years some of the things I thought were resolved by the agreement are still not in place.

CD: Like what?

JM: I teach law at the State University in Tetovo, and learned that, for example, there could be an Albanian-speaking judge, attorneys and participants in the case, but the entire proceedings must be in Macedonian.

CD: Well, it is the national language.

JM: Yes, of course.  But I thought that in communities that were majority-minority populations that there could be proceedings in the Albanian language.  I am teaching at two universities that were founded to provide higher education opportunities to ethnic Albanians in their native language.  This seemed like a good idea.  It still does, but, now that I know that they [law students] will need to practice law entirely in Macedonian, regardless of whether they are practicing in an Albanian-speaking village, I wonder if more needs to be done to be sure they are effective advocates in Macedonian.

CD: Do they complain about this issue?

JM: No. But also, I am teaching them in English. A third language!

Student Engagement and Subjects in Macedonia

CD: In your classes at the university in Tetovo and the SEE University branch in Skopje, what are your courses about?

JM: At SEEU I am teaching first-year law students US Constitutional Law. And at the State University in Tetovo I am teaching first-year Political Science students Democracy and Civil Society and third-year law students US Constitutional Law.

CD: Do the students express any opinions in class on world political issues?

JM: Not so much in the class during lectures and seminars, but we do chat informally. They are frustrated about the lack of a government mandate [in Macedonia]. I would say they are very thoughtful and aware. One day over break we were talking about Trump and I said that I was surprised when he praised [Turkish President] Erdoğan on the referendum results. The students said Erdoğan was using religion as a tool to increase his own powers. They said that some people in Albania think he’s saving the Muslim world, but we think he is being undemocratic and trying to enhance his powers.

It was interesting to listen, but I am not trying to interject my opinion when teaching. We are covering core topics in US Constitutional Law (federalism, separation of powers, judicial review), so the world political issues you mentioned don’t usually come up during class.

CD: Now one perennial issue teachers here have complained of is a certain apathy among students, and a lack of critical thinking. Have you encountered these issues?

JM: I haven’t found that with my students, although students are signing up for and attending my lectures because they want the opportunity to study with an American professor.  I also try to keep things interesting by using some of the methodologies I would in the US, like field trips, simulations and experiential learning opportunities. For example, I am planning to bring my law students to the Constitutional Court, and I brought my political science students to a women’s legal clinic.  Next week my law students in Skopje will be participating in a US Supreme Court oral argument simulation.

Student Awareness of American Issues

CD: Very interesting. Tell me, to what extent are the Albanian students you teach aware of political events in America, like the last campaign and the new government?

JM: Oh, they are aware. One of my students asked me the other day if Trump is ‘making America great again.’ They seem to know about the campaign and the current administration.  So when I mention things like use of executive powers, they are aware of current events like the recent health care debacle and the immigration ban.

CD: What do they think about Bernie [Sanders]?

JM: I’m not sure- we haven’t really talked about Bernie. He does not come up, as far as the topics we are covering in my law classes.  Maybe since they are aware that I worked for the Clintons in the past they do not bring it up?

CD: Considering, as we noted, it is a historic moment here and the crisis has brought up so many relevant issues, have you been able to engage on events relevant in the local context?

JM: Not too much. There were some topics that came up in studying separation of powers in the US, like cases involving wiretapping and the use of a special prosecutor that seemed relevant in a comparative perspective. In that unit we also discussed the Nixon Tapes case and the resulting impeachment of President Richard Nixon, and how in the US no one’s above the law.

‘Thinking Strategically’ about Future Research and Macedonia

CD: Over the years I have met many Fulbrighters, and seen how they spend their time. Some seem to just inhale substances, or work on their dating skills. But you- you are keeping very busy. Was this part of your specific award’s program? For you is this busy schedule a requirement, or is it a result of your personality?

JM: (Laughing) It’s my personality! It’s also due to the relatively short time I have here. I would love to be here the whole year, but it’s just one semester. The upside is that every single day we have to contribute, to do more, to learn more about Macedonia. With these awards, it’s what you make of it. For me, even when some issue comes up, even a roadblock presents an opportunity. I don’t want to waste a single, precious moment that we have here.

CD: How has the [US] embassy been? Are they supportive?

JM: Absolutely. They are very supportive.  But no one’s been telling me that I have to go and do all these things.  I don’t think it is typical [for a Fulbrighter] to be teaching in two universities in two different cities with three faculties, while also doing speaking engagements all over the country.

The embassy has helped arrange some of these guest lecture opportunities. I asked if I could present at each of the American Corners [in Stip, Struga, Bitola, Tetovo and Skopje], and they made that possible.  And other contacts have connected me with colleagues at other universities. What I learned from my Fulbright experience in Moldova is that you never know which faculty member or what opportunity is going to lead to long-term collaboration. So I want to have as many opportunities to connect with potential collaborators here in Macedonia.

CD: Since you have been teaching ethnic Albanians, do you feel that you have missed out on meeting students from the Macedonian side, and other ethnic minorities?

JM: Yes, and so I’ve been trying to supplement this by working with UKIM [University of Ss Cyril & Methodius] in Skopje. For example, the law faculty will let us use one of their courtrooms for the mock oral argument simulation. I have delivered guest lectures there. And I hope we will find other ways to collaborate in the future.  I also gave a lecture about the US Supreme Court for the Turkish Yahya Kemal College, as well as a guest lecture for UACS [University American College Skopje] on federalism and on administrative law. And I’m working with a professor at Bitola’s St Kliment Ohridski University [UKLO], and will be on their journal’s editorial board. So I’m trying to have as many meetings and guest lectures as possible to broaden my contacts and opportunities with Macedonians.

Now that I have passed my halfway point in Macedonia, the time has come to start thinking more strategically about future possibilities for specific research projects.

Results of Teaching and Final Thoughts on Macedonia

CD: That sounds very promising. How do you think your teaching has been most important for the Macedonian setting?

JM: Strengthening the rule of law in Macedonia is part of the mission of our embassy.  Government leaders should be working for the good of the people. Reducing corruption and increasing public trust in institutions is the foundation from which all other things are possible.

I hope that through my work I can make an impact with my students, who are the future of Macedonia.

CD: Have you met with the Special Prosecutor?

JM: I have not.  I did meet the OSCE rule of law officer, Rezarta Schuetz, to learn more about their activities- to gather information rather than solve their problems. She told me about a range of activities being undertaken, including anti-discrimination, hate speech, protection of Roma rights, gender equality, the independence of the judiciary and so on.  And I am going to be scheduling meetings with others working to improve rule of law here in Macedonia.

CD: Is there a possibility that you could through USF or another university, bring Macedonian judges and prosecutors to the US for training?

JM: I think it could be possible. I know that in Moldova, the Embassy (together with the Justice Department) brought prosecutors and judges to America, and the American Bar Association did a lot of work training judges, too.

I want to learn more about what is being done here in Macedonia to improve training and to provide infrastructure to support transparency and efficiency. For example, in Moldova, USAID had invested in computer systems that randomized case assignment, as a way to combat corruption in the judiciary.  I need to learn more about programs here in Macedonia.

CD: Since we agreed it is a historic moment in Macedonia, including on the legal front, I was wondering if you had studied the current disagreements over interpretation of the Macedonian constitution. For example, that the government partly isn’t formed yet because [EU Commissioner Federica] Mogherini has pointed to Article 72 and argued a simple parliamentary majority is enough to form a government, whereas President Ivanov has cited Article 82.1, citing his responsibilities to uphold national sovereignty and the unitary character of the state.

JM: Interesting. No, I would like to learn more about this crisis, from the constitutional perspective.

CD: This spring has seen another historic moment, the Together for Macedonia rallies which have been going on for over 50 days straight- have you had a chance to see them for yourself?

JM: No. We are advised as a security precaution to avoid large demonstrations.

CD: The pensioners won’t hurt you (laughing). They are just regular people. That’s alright. I wanted to ask, before we finish, if there is anything I have forgotten, anything that is important that you’d like to add.

JM: It has been a wonderful experience here in Macedonia.  We have tried to see as much of the country (and the region) as possible. There is so much natural beauty – the lakes, rivers, springs, snow-capped mountains. And so many interesting things to learn by exploring the historic sites.

If I had to say one thing about what I like here in Macedonia, I would have to emphasize just how welcoming the people are. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality and kindness people have shown to my daughter and me. This has been extraordinary and unanticipated.

I was so glad my husband could come for a visit, and when he did, even though he could only be here a short time, he could see and experience what I had been saying when we skyped. Macedonians are incredibly welcoming, and at every turn of our journey he could see examples of these kind gestures. We have so many stories of nice things that people here have done for us.

And – the food! It’s delicious. Even my daughter, who is a notoriously picky eater, is eating well and enjoying the cuisine. Her favorite is pastrmajlija. And I am trying to figure out how we are going to get a jar of ajvar home without it breaking in my suitcase.

We have felt so welcome here, and the truth is, neither my daughter nor I are ready to leave! We are going to try to pack in as much as we can during our remaining weeks here. And I am going to work to lay the foundation for future cooperation.  We want this to be our first trip to Macedonia, but certainly not our last.

CD: Judithanne, thank you for this very insightful interview. I am really glad you have enjoyed your time in Macedonia.

JM: Thank you!

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 5: Transition Phase and Intelligence Assessments

By Chris Deliso

The previous installments of this series on European involvement in Macedonia’s crisis comprise the beginnings of’s comprehensive deep background series, known as The Great Unraveling. It will continue indefinitely, as new and important information keeps flowing in, as people become more frustrated and outspoken about the impasse.

On the Surface Still

So far, our series has basically stayed at the level of surface politics; this is not because deeper connections do not exist, but simply because we must first set the stage for what is to come- and to prove how, even at the level of surface politics, European intervention has failed due to problems with professional capacities, goals, time limitations and institutional self-protection mechanisms that have all contributed to a deep mistrust of the whole venture, and further divisions, in Macedonia. In other words, even in the case that deeper issues had not existed, the problems of the day could not have been resolved by the means officially chosen. Yet had the powers-that-be made different choices, at least the crisis’ continuation would have been avoidable. It was simply handled incorrectly.

Indeed, watching the crisis unfold has been like seeing one of those gruesome botched beheadings in which the victim writhes in agony because the executioner is too incompetent to get a clean cut. This failure is part – but only part – of the reason why German Special Envoy Johannes Haindl and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland are soon returning to Skopje. It is another validation of what we have already isolated: one year on from the supposedly conclusive Przino Agreement, the EU has lost its credibility and leverage in Macedonia.

Recounting the Series

Ten days have now passed since the fourth installment of this series, in which we isolated the flaws of the June 8 2015 Priebe Report in the context of pre-existing EU policy (Part 3) and key factors that occurred in early 2015, like the Hahn Cabinet’s decision to treat the crisis as a “rule of law” issue (Part 2).

Finally, some 17 days have now passed since we discussed the EU’s self-defensive tactics of media patronage and evasiveness, which not incidentally have contributed to the chronically delayed and incomplete reporting of the current series (Part 1). Ironically, only after a sharp social media comment yesterday did we get a partial answer to some of the questions sent over a month ago to Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič.  It is unfortunate that it is necessary to criticize an official on Twitter in order to prod them into doing their job.

Current State of Affairs

As of June 30, 2016, the major parties in Macedonia remain deadlocked, with the cancellation of previously agreed June 5 elections earlier this spring indicating again a tendency of parties to not negotiate in good faith, and a continuingly naïve attitude from the Europeans that they actually ever intended to do so.

The EU’s diminished capacities locally have been damaged further by last week’s Brexit vote, which has caused internal instability and shifted the focus northward. This has created further opportunity for individual states (namely, the US and Germany) to take an active role in crisis resolution attempts. The possibility of ‘Brexit contagion’ will be used both by Euro-federalists as a threat that can only be met by political union, and by Eurosceptics as a precedent against such union.

When first elected as EU leader in 2014, Juncker promised no further enlargement until at least 2020. A vacuum was created in which politicians of candidate countries were freed to do as they pleased since there was no incentive to cooperate within any upcoming election cycle. Juncker effectively handed Austria’s nomination for commissioner of enlargement, Johannes Hahn, with a mandate that needed no fulfillment. It should have been a very low-pressure job, but has turned out anything but that.

In fact, the only reason why the EU has paid significant attention to Balkan countries has been the migrant crisis since June 2015. Now, the anticipated second migrant wave that we have long predicted will begin anytime Turkish President Erdoğan chooses. Now that he has made moves to soothe tensions with powers to the north (Russia) and south (Israel) the Turkish leader is in a much stronger position to pressure Brussels over the migration deal which was never more than a desperate attempt to buy time.

Maybe some of its supporters expected it to magically solve the situation, but since then the increasing prominence of Egypt and Libya in the illegal migration game is also causing pressure and a tactical rethink in Europe. This should free up some of the pressure on Macedonia and other Balkan countries, which may also use the renewed migration crisis as a weapon to further punish Brussels for perceived interference. Only Brussels is not aware of this.

A Changing of the Guard

In Macedonia specifically, European diplomacy is going through a phase change. August 2016 will see the end of mandate for two of the most high-profile diplomats mentioned frequently by media throughout the crisis, EU Delegation leader Aivo Orav and Italian Ambassador Ernesto Massimo Bellelli. Also leaving is the Slovenian ambassador, Branko Rankovec (who was not specified by local media for any role in the crisis).

The departure of the first two ambassadors will remove a huge burden from their respective diplomatic apparatuses, as they have been consistently blamed by media, rightly or wrongly, for playing an outsized role in Macedonian internal affairs during the crisis. Yet the alleviation of subterranean pressures on EU and Italian diplomacy in the past two years will have unpredictable effects. For example, the pressure on both men has partially influenced them to do more ‘positive engagement’ (such as fundraising, bringing investments, giving ceremonial awards and so on) than they might otherwise have done. It will be interesting to see whether their replacements, free of these pressures, will continue their predecessors’ initiatives as they themselves will not be similarly burdened.

There is an interesting detail for the historical record. Both Orav and his expected replacement (Samuel Žbogar, current EU envoy to Kosovo) had been appointed at the same time, on 21 December 2011, by the same official. That was the former British Commissioner for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, who was replaced by Italy’s Federica Mogherini in 2014. Ashton’s term coincided with a very important period in international involvement in pre-crisis Macedonia, which will be covered in the author’s upcoming ebook, The Macedonian Mosaic.

As we have already recounted in this series, Aivo Orav was never allowed to speak with by the EU. Only they know why.  Ambassador Bellelli, however, did (after some persuasion) manage to make time for an exclusive interview with, which we will discuss at the appropriate point in our upcoming series on Italian security concerns in the MENA/Balkan region.

It should also be noted that there are several foreign diplomats who will not be cycling out this year, and who have taken a similarly visible role in the crisis. Their activities too will be mentioned in the relevant contexts as we move forward.

Observed Trends

As we have noted, one clear trend throughout the crisis has been a reliance on ‘cunning plans’- political and security stratagems that have never fully succeeded. This is due largely to their tactical rather than strategic nature. The damage that these failures have caused has multiplied the pre-existing problems.

This has been most serious for internationals, because tactical failures cannot worsen the perception of local actors who already have long lost all public credibility. And in any case, Macedonian system society absorbs and internalizes everything, until it passes into folklore. (Perhaps the only good thing about this tendency is the sign of a very patient and tolerant society).

The general result of this is an increased tendency towards promoting violent extremism as more reasonable options become exhausted and actors grow more impatient. There is also an increased reliance on local patronage schemes which, it is perhaps overoptimistically believed, will help contain the damage and ideally, cover up foreign involvement since even before the coup plot began from August 2014. But that is in the murky depths beneath surface politics and as such, a topic for another time.

In this light, the general history of foreign interventionism in Macedonia can be understood as a series of tactical gaffes that have required a resolution through the legitimization of parallel institutions (most notably, the ‘Special Prosecutor’s Office’) to guarantee that everything gets swept under the rug and that the right people are punished for a desired political result.

A Prosecution that Is Special, in Every Sense of the Word

However – and still, at the level of surface politics – the very concept of an SPO was always fatally flawed. This is symptomatic of the rushed and ill-conceived thinking that informed the entire process of foreign interventionism since February 2015.

As with the Priebe Report itself, this is reflected by choice of language. The official Przino Agreement of 15 July 2015 states that “by 15 September 2015, there shall be a new, Special Prosecutor with full autonomy to lead the investigations surrounding and arising from the interception of communications.”

The terminology italicized above was deliberately vague. It essentially entitled this new and unusual entity to do anything it wanted. Without any clear limitations on mandate or methods, and with a massive budget of 4 million euros, it naturally took a maximalist and extremely aggressive approach that has alienated the majority of the public and resulted in one PR disaster after another. Literally everything the SPO does now reinforces the argument of ex-PM Gruevski, that the body was set up to arrest him and his colleagues while rewarding the opposition.

Thus once again an instrument of tactical foreign intervention has backfired. It is not in the interests of Western media to make a substantive investigation of the SPO from Przino times until now; instead, they have tried to emphasize a cult of personality aspect, as with the BBC’s absurd and meaningless recent comparison of the carefully-selected SPO team to ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ This identification (with fictional characters, at least fitting in that regard) was first developed in the German media and has since metastasized like a cancer among Western propagandists for the opposition cause.

Nevertheless, as with the work of the SPO itself, its foreign PR support continues to perpetuate simmering Macedonian public distrust of all Western interests. Again, both action and rhetoric increase the divide between outside perception and local reality.

Tactical Assessments for a Summer of Unconventional Warfare, and a Fall of Planned Change

In early May both MI6 and BND assets visited Macedonia, from north and from south. Another tactical failure had recently occurred, and the emphasis was on field assessment of the future viability of the Colorful Revolution crowd funded by Soros and various other outside interests. can confirm that the cumulative assessment indicated disappointment with the movement’s failure to gain traction and credibility among the general public. The frustration with this lack of a result has recently led to infighting and competition within the revolutionary ranks, which itself also plays into the hands of pro-government supporters.

Western secret services have assessed that a six to nine month period will be required in order for the executioner of their policy instrument (SDSM) to be in a position in which it can even compete in elections. Until then, a low-grade war of attrition – ideally, complemented by some high-level arrests – will continue. However, sources indicate that any election for fall will be delayed until (as has been argued variously) next year, to coincide with scheduled local elections.

Until then, the actions and counter-actions from pro-opposition and pro-government supporters will be conditioned by the following factors: the outcome of US-German overseen negotiations; reactions to the NATO Summit’s expected rejection of Macedonian membership; the potential revived migrant crisis, and the inevitability of summer vacation reducing the number of available protesters.

Colorful revolutionaries have been told in no uncertain terms, however, that the continuation of their funding will depend on continuing to ‘show up’ through the summer, even if this interferes with their vacations. They have even been requested to ‘escalate their activities to the next level,’ as one foreign observer recently told

In the same way that the Hahn Cabinet originally envisioned a ‘two-track’ solution to the crisis (in March 2015), we have now in reality a two-speed unconventional war. There is a long-term, slow-speed plan for supporting and replenishing the opposition through various soft-power tactics, which will probably fail but which will pay enough to keep the depleted movement going.

At the same time, the fast-speed unconventional warfare that will continue throughout the summer will feature offenses and counter-offensives in both i/ops and various more tangible efforts. It is hard to predict exactly what they will be, but we expect at some point the war will take on an international tenor. In other words, physical manifestations of the antagonism between pro-SDSM and pro-VMRO factions will be seen outside of Macedonia.

Depending on the outcome of this war of attrition, the conditions will be ripe for a movement towards not only political, but also structural change in Macedonia. That is the big question in the background. For certain powers, the changing of one politician or another does not suffice to make the long-term changes deemed necessary for local transformation. Although this is beyond the outside media’s interest, the local population is very much aware that the future of the country will depend on the events of the next months- 2016 will be known as the year when the ‘dead period’ of summer was actually rather lively.

Illuminating Conclusions

The intensification of unconventional warfare on all fronts is necessary for another purpose; the distraction of foreign media from the very real international scandals that have not been reported but that are intimately at the heart of the Macedonian crisis. Diplomatic sources indicate that the great powers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the SPO’s incompetence and inability to sweep everything under the rug. That is ultimately, of course, the fault of the people who chose those running that particular sideshow.

Thus, once again the trend of tactical failure will have to manifest in more aggressive rhetoric and even violence. But one of the most interesting and recurring aspects of the Macedonian crisis, from an objective standpoint, is the constant creation of new scandals throughout tactical failures meant to obscure the old ones.

As such, things can only conclude with an obscuring of the cumulative deeds that have darkened the local landscape for the past two years and more, or through a peaceful illumination of the facts of events as they have happened. The latter might not end up being as painful as many fear, for the long-term good of the country and those involved with it.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 4: Inside The Priebe Report

By Chris Deliso

The June 8, 2015 Priebe Report was written by six experienced professionals. The Hahn Commission and Skopje Delegation gave these men all required support. The team and the Commission were both satisfied with the final report, the recommendations of which would seriously influence subsequent political negotiations and institutional changes.

According to the report, the EU recruited the team “to carry out a rapid analysis of the situation and provide recommendations to address these issues.” Regarding these “issues,” the authors specify “the systemic problems” which wiretapped conversations released by SDSM “have revealed or confirmed.”

Brief Assessment: Factors Influencing the Result’s comprehensive series on EU intervention in Macedonia has isolated eight key factors that influenced the conduct and outcome of the expert team mission in spring 2015. They are:

  1. The Hahn Commission’s perception of the crisis as primarily reflecting “rule-of-law” issues (see this series’ second article) .
  2. The EU’s longtime concerns over Section 4.24 of annual progress reports, and the Interior Ministry’s specific SIGINT setup (see the third article, and this leaked internal document from 2010, regarding amendments to key legislation on communications).
  3. The Hahn Cabinet’s selection of certain expert team members ideologically predisposed towards accepting allegations such as those presented by SDSM in the “wiretap scandal.”
  4. The key logistics role of Delegation Chief Aivo Orav, and high likelihood that he was being blackmailed or at least heavily pressured before, during and after the period in question.
  5. The direct access of SDSM Vice-President Radmila Sekerinska to the team members.
  6. The agreed decision to investigate the content of the wiretapped material, instead of first solving the mystery of provenance and general creation motives.
  7. The short and rushed working time of the group, and the relatively tiny sample size of content examined by them, compared to the amount of still-unknown data that has since been announced.
  8. At least partial ignorance and disinterest regarding Macedonia’s security responsibilities and its key role in overall European security.

Unsettling Facts

Now, off-the-record comments provided for indicate some unsettling facts. Comparing our own interviews, knowledge of events from the field throughout the crisis, and the report itself, it becomes clear that the team ignored historical context, contradictory events, and basic common sense.

Yet most shockingly, some of the Priebe team’s personal opinions – which did not appear in the report, but which definitely informed it – reveal a fundamental ignorance of Macedonia’s security challenges, and a demeaning attitude towards its institutional needs. This view has, unfortunately, been repeated for years in various forms to by similarly clueless Eurocrats. Simply, they do not understand Macedonia’s crucial role in the general European security architecture.

Above and Beyond has spoken to multiple members of the expert team, Macedonian and international diplomats, commission officials and other informed sources over the past year and more.  All of this research has gone into The Great Unraveling series, of which this article constitutes the fourth part.

Our current and previous analyses indicate that the Priebe Report reflected chronic EU concerns. But it also went beyond all previous recommendations, ordering radical new punitive measures not previously suggested. Nevertheless, since the Commission accepted all its recommendations, the Priebe Report became the bedrock upon which the July 2015 Przino Agreement was founded. Thus it is the most significant document/event in the entire crisis.

The Przino Agreement was negotiated between four local party leaders, under heavy EU and US pressure. Essentially, this means that about 15 individuals are ultimately responsible for turning the EU’s failed intervention into a new national reality.

However, this intervention has been heavily criticized, by ordinary citizens as well as partisan supporters. In its well-meaning but botched operation, the Commission and Delegation actually perpetuated further scandals, real and perceived, that were used against key figures throughout 2015, and which continue to paralyze their capacities. This paralysis has tipped the balance of power and influence in favor of the German government and the Americans.

A New Chill in the Air

We exposed the fundamental hypocrisy behind the EU’s pledged respect for media freedom in this series’ first article. It is thus appropriate here to mention that as soon as made official information requests to the Hahn Cabinet about the Priebe Report in May 2016, a sudden behavioral change occurred. Informed persons, including team members who had previously spoken freely with us in an off-the-record capacity, suddenly went silent or referred us to Commission spokespersons.

We thus asked EC Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič if she or Commissioner Hahn had instructed Priebe team members to not speak with We have yet to receive a reply.

Mandate: Rapid Analysis, Rule of Law, Content over Provenance

According to the report, and new responses from the Hahn Cabinet, the mandate of the expert mission was “to carry out a rapid analysis of the situation and provide concrete recommendations on how to address the issues arising from the interception scandal.”

According to the Cabinet, the Commission and Hahn himself were “satisfied” with the report and its recommendations, “which reflected and confirmed” many concerns previously raised by the Commission. They were pleased by the “concrete steps” the report recommended. A “broader” set of recommendations (the so-called Urgent Reform Priorities, presented by the Commission in June 2015) followed. Macedonia’s four largest parties signed off on these, without any public debate or qualitative discussion of the Priebe Report, and thus arrived at the July 15 Przino Agreement, which has been a predictable failure.

However, the Hahn Cabinet may have now unwittingly betrayed the possibility that parallel institution creation (today’s ‘Special Prosecutor’s Office) was, as we suspect, envisioned from the very beginning. The expert team’s mandate was not to investigate the making of the recordings themselves, the Cabinet informed us in May 2016, because “that criminal activity is currently being investigated by the Special Prosecutor’s Office which was set up at the end of 2015 for this precise purpose.”

There was no reply from Spokeswoman Kocijančič when we pointed out that this explanatory reference was an anachronism; in early 2015, no special prosecutor existed, but the regular public prosecutor was successfully investigating the provenance of the recordings and the circumstances under which they were made.

Yet without first solving this mystery, without verifying the reality of the ‘evidence,’ there is no point investigating unproven content- unless, of course, your goal is to create a rushed, out-of-context and activist document for a political goal. And that is precisely what the Priebe Report was.

The working group intentionally refrained from inquiring individual cases,” one senior team member told, when addressing the issue of why they chose to investigate content over provenance. “That is for prosecutors and courts. This probably explains why some ‘prominent’ cases were not even mentioned in our report. In any case, we were aware of each such case.”

This is interesting, though inconclusive testimony that the Priebe Team had a wider awareness of events than is reflected in their narrow report. Yet they (and the Commission) were surely aware that their own activities would inevitability put heavy pressure on said prosecutors and courts, regarding how they conducted their own investigations.

EU Team Selection Process and Targeting: the TAIEX System and Contradictions

According to the Cabinet, the Commission Directorate General department dealing with Macedonia selected “independent experts” familiar with the issues and the country. Similar expert team visits occur elsewhere, in relation to various parts of the acquis (especially justice and home affairs). Such experts are chosen from the TAIEX (Technical Assistance and Information Exchange instrument of the European Commission).

According to the Hahn Cabinet, the Priebe Team members were chosen on objective grounds including their knowledge of their field, and Macedonia; they were not proposed by EU Member States, officials state. The work of such experts (in theory) is apolitical and not made public, but shared only with the Commission and the involved country.

For some reason, the Commission perceived the Macedonia mission as more important than most; it thus sent what it considered its most experienced and trusted experts. This is quite interesting, because also knows experts with regional and highly specific SIGINT backgrounds who were not chosen, and who arguably could have done a better job. One team member told that “all of us had some experience in dealing with pre-accession and Western Balkan countries. The composition of the group made sure, that very different areas of expertise were covered (including security, intelligence, IT and constitutional matters.”

However, inconsistencies emerge. While the Cabinet has attested that TAEIX was used, this team member admitted to actually not knowing “how individual members have been selected.” We assess that Hahn personally selected at least the team leader, retired career EC official Reinhard Priebe. “[Hahn’] probably did not pull his top lieutenant out of TAIEX,” says one Brussels official with basic knowledge of the case. “He wanted a guy he could count on.”

Further, intelligence available to indicates that at least one expert member had little or no Balkan experience, and that member-state interests did, contrary to the Cabinet’s claim, play a role in the selection of two other members.

There are other odd discrepancies. A senior team member told in April 2016 thatI do not know if any of the members have done some further FYROM work afterwards.” However, we know that at least two team members were asked to continue advising in Macedonia after the team’s activities ended. Thus either the old gang does not keep in touch, the cabinet is not being entirely honest, or people’s memories are slipping.

Hahn spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič did not respond to our request regarding possible member-state influence on expert team selection.

EU Stealth Missions: Non-Transparency as the Rule, Not the Exception

For many Europeans, one sinister thing about the European Union is its tendency to use small groups of anonymous, faceless technocrats for purposes that inevitably impact the lives of millions. This is symptomatic of the EU’s current democratic deficit.

Most such expert groups come and go without anyone even knowing of their existence. Luckily, the Priebe report is known- but only because the Enlargement Commission made a very unusual decision. Due to the “seriousness” of the situation the decision was taken, “exceptionally,” to publish the report, the Hahn Cabinet told us.

While the report was made public, it did not name the specific team members, except for Reinhard Priebe. So, in the interest of transparency, will now list the expert team members. The member identities were all confirmed for us as correct by a senior team member.

Meet the Experts

Reinhard Priebe. This former German judge and (from 1984) career EU official gave the expert team’s report its informal name. On his distinguished CV, two appointments stand out: Priebe’s former role as Director for Western Balkans in DG External Relations (2001-2004) and identical role in DG Enlargement, in 2005-6. Before retiring in 2014, Priebe was for four years Director of Internal Security at DG Home Affairs. In this period he negotiated data-sharing agreements with the US, implemented the EU Internal Security Strategy, and worked on anti-corruption and police cooperation initiatives.

Priebe was thus covering Macedonia during the last period of rule by SDSM- a time when Deutsche Telecom was fighting to retain its business and SIGINT monopoly position. According to the mentioned Brussels official, Priebe is “a consummate professional, a real EU insider who knows the system inside out. If I was Hahn, I might have picked him too.”

James Hamilton. This veteran Irish prosecutor was the team’s key legal/ideological mind. Director of Public Prosecutors of Ireland from 1999-2011, Hamilton was elected President of the International Association of Prosecutors in 2010, serving for several years. He has worked regionally on legal missions for the EU and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. Thus, Hamilton has written about laws on the Prosecutors Offices in Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine, as well as political parties, amnesty laws and so on in Balkan, Caucasus and Central Asian countries. He has also worked on anti­corruption issues and criminal justice systems issues in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Albania.

Given the context of an alleged ‘government wiretap scandal’ in Macedonia, Hamilton was a natural ideological choice. His writings indicate strong leftist views. For example, in a 2006 Venice Commission report, he concluded that state security actions actions “must be taken carefully, and must be restrained in their application, limited in a way that echoes the derogation provision of the ECHR, no more extensive than demanded by the exigencies of the situation, and which do not go beyond it.”

Hamilton also criticized the US Patriot Act in that text as being “among a number of American legislative measures designed to remove the impediments that individual privacy rights pose to investigations. It permits the interception and monitoring of communications and communications records, and searches without notice.”

An August 3, 2015 media article confirmed that Hamilton had been retained after the expert team’s mission, to advise on issues regarding the envisioned special prosecutor’s office. He can thus be considered one of the most influential team members.

Thomas Trier Hansen. This 46-year-old Danish lawyer has human rights and anti-corruption expertise, and is a partner at Nordic Law Group, which advises companies on compliance and due diligence with Deloitte, Denmark. Formerly Team Leader for the “Access to Justice and Reform of Law and State” program at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Hansen was also a lawyer for the Danish Immigration Service, and President of the Court of Greenland (2009-2011). He is also a board member of Transparency International Greenland and a member of the Danish Refugee Board. Hansen was a judge in the Eastern High Court of Denmark (2008-2009), and been chairman of the Greenlandic Board for supervision of municipalities and the Greenlandic Complaints Board for Public Procurement.

Dovydas Vitkauskas. This British-trained Lithuanian lawyer advises on justice, human rights and good governance issues- illustrating again the ideological worldviews of the team. He is a partner at Moscow-based Threefold Legal Advisors, and worked for 10 years as a senior lawyer at the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights. He was nominated as a judge there In December 2009 by the Lithuanian President. Vitkauskas has worked on EU-financed projects regarding judicial and legal reforms in Russia and other CIS countries.

Vitkauskas also was Team Leader of the IPA Project for Further Support to the Judiciary and promotion of the Probation Service and Alternative Sanctions in Macedonia, from 2010. But more recently, and possibly of more relevance, is the fact that, according to the EU, he participated in a justice-related event at Skopje’s Stone Bridge Hotel on January 24, 2015- one day after Zoran Verusevski’s arrest. The coincidence could have given the Lithuanian ‘added value’ as an external expert who, coincidentally, had been in-country at a key moment.

Maurizio Varanese. This veteran Italian chief police inspector was the Priebe team’s key law-enforcement expert. He has served in similar EC expert missions in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Georgia, Jordan and Ukraine, on topics like organized crime, terrorism, corruption and financial crime. This very experienced lawman, who has also worked for Europol, has lectured on telecom interception, and was one of two SIGINT specialists on the Priebe Team.

All available intelligence indicates that Inspector Varanese was selected from the beginning for implementation of planned future legislative changes. As of November 23, 2015 (at latest) he had been asked to help rewrite Macedonia’s law on interception of communications.

6. The final Priebe Team member, also Italian, played an important role on several fronts. However, we will not identify him at this time.

The Secrecy Pact

From the beginning, the team made a pact. “We agreed to preserve the confidentiality of our work, in the interest of working efficiently,” one senior team member told in April 2016. “This includes by the way, refraining from giving any information to the outside on who said what in the group.”

While this is standard practice for such entities, it certainly does not add to public trust or transparency. Macedonian citizens had little idea of this team or its work, though these citizens – and not the experts – would have to live with the consequences of the experts’ findings.

The secrecy pact was mostly, according to this official, a preventive measure against possible damage arising from media citations or “sending mixed messages.” In a highly-charged and fluid atmosphere, it would make sense. However, the fact that multiple members have made private comments contradicting (as we have seen) some Cabinet remarks indicates that leakages still occur.

The Logistical Role of the Commission and Delegation- and Possible Hostile outside Influences

The key liaison between the Hahn Cabinet, the Priebe Team and EU Delegation in Skopje was a little-known Commission official named Marie-Sofie Sveidqvist. She has served in similar roles in the past, for example accompanying a 2004 EU justice-related expert mission to Turkey. In January 2013, as an “international policy officer,” she participated in a Brussels event on human rights in Macedonia. Other information is not readily available; Sveidqvist would seem to personify the anonymity of the Brussels machine. “She was not a member of our team,” one member told “But as a Commission official she, like other officials gave technical support to the group.”

The Hahn Cabinet informed us that the expert team’s meetings were organized by “the geographic unit in Brussels” and the EU Delegation in Skopje. The latter arranged meetings for the team with state bodies, representatives of relevant international organizations, NGOs and journalists (note: this website was not among those invited). According to the Cabinet, meeting/interview subjects were chosen “based on the relevance of their (or their institution’s) activities, to the rule of law issues raised by the intercepted conversations.” They further add that a “courtesy meeting” was arranged with Foreign Minister Nikola Popovski.

A team member told us that Delegation Chief Aivo Orav and his staff “took care of logistics and getting confirmation on meetings. We asked their advice for meetings, and if they had other recommendations, we were not against seeing anybody.” The Commission, in addition, also helped find certain interview targets.

In the end, the team was satisfied. “We were free to arrange the meetings we wanted to have, and managed indeed to meet all the people we wanted to see,” the official notes. “Of course, we could have met more and other people, but we got quite a good picture of the issues at stake in the meetings we had.” This is an important comment to keep in mind, considering some of the problematic elements (discussed below) regarding who the team did (and didn’t) meet.

Throughout the expert team’s three visits, they also confirm awareness of “underground interest” from the various embassies in Skopje. But it is unclear to what extent they interacted. One member recalls that US ambassador Jess Baily joined the team for a dinner, but that this was “just a dinner, he happened to be there too. He did not seek to advise us.”

However, neither the team nor the Commission would discuss one crucial factor. While the Macedonian media has recorded countless testimonials of blackmail allegedly exerted against politicians, businessmen and foreign officials, Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič failed to reply when asked whether the Commission had been aware of this. Yet all available intelligence indicates a high likelihood that key figures assisting the Priebe Team (most importantly Head of Delegation Aivo Orav) were being heavily blackmailed by local actors at the time, and that this affected his behavior.

Since neither the team members nor the Commission will acknowledge whether they are or were cognizant of this situation, the question of how external pressures impacted the EU’s handling of the Macedonian crisis remains unanswered. We might note again (as in the first article) that Orav has ignored or avoided all requests from to discuss anything since last July. He is expected to leave Macedonia in August.

This is also significant because the Priebe Report does in fact note that unnamed foreign diplomats had been tapped, though no one would discuss any details, or whether this has had an influence on the diplomatic process.

Structural and Linguistic Characteristics of the Priebe Report

The Priebe Report is 20 pages long and includes 34 footnotes. It starts with a Background and Working Methodology section, which gives an overview and profile of the kinds of persons they met. It ends with nine bullet-point recommendations. In the General Remarks section (1) the authors state that their findings were made “on the basis of a series of technical meetings conducted in Skopje on 3-4 May and 18-20 May 2015 and numerous reports and materials from various sources.” However, here they do not mention the earlier, 20-22 April meeting; did it not contribute to the overall findings, or was it not a ‘technical’ mission? The situation is unclear.

In the footnotes, the authors refer to Zaev’s wiretapped ‘bombs’ as ‘revelations’- a Biblical word associated with prophets, and one that confers indirect legitimacy. The report uses a carefully legalistic writing style; this is meant to avoid assuming responsibility. The authors frequently use passive-voice sentence construction and vague copular verbs (‘seem,’ ‘appear’ and so on). This is a classic distancing technique that protects authors from having made a direct assertion of fact, while simultaneously intimating a sort of abstract authoritativeness and objectivity. This choice of linguistic register was very unfortunate, given the significance of the research subject.

For examples of passive usages, the authors allege that shortcomings “have been identified,” and “cannot seriously be contested.”  Or, the team reports that it “was confronted with” a certain attitude from interlocutors. Other vague verb usages occur when, for example, the team writes that they have focused on what “appear to be” areas where action is most needed. They write that parliamentary committees “appear unwilling” to fulfill their mandate.

This linguistic subterfuge surfaces again in the section ‘Causes of the Current Situation,’ in which the report endorses Zaev’s allegations, without factually endorsing them. Thus the authors write that the counterintelligence service “appears, to an external onlooker, to have been operating outside its legal mandate on behalf of the government, to control top officials in the public administration, prosecutors, judges and political opponents with a consequent interference in the independence of the judiciary and other relevant national institutions.”

The Ramifications of Bad Language and Content-Over-Provenance

That formulation technically keeps the authors (and EU) safe, as they have not specifically blamed anyone for anything. But the conflation of foggy language and foggy thinking tended toward a tacit endorsement of opposition allegations, even though team members we spoke with assert they did not intend this.

For example, when briefly mentioning (without really discussing) the then-ongoing investigation of Zoran Verusevski and his former UBK colleagues, the report adds that “it would be a matter of concern to the group if these investigations focused exclusively or primarily on opposition-linked figures and related to the leaking of the documents rather than the substance of the wrong-doing which appears to emerge from many of the transcripts.”

This is a disturbing intervention in an allegedly objective technical paper, and not only because of the sleazy choice of linguistic register. Fundamentally, the comment is a reaction to political advocacy regarding assumptions that were unproven, and which the group specifically did not want to prove. The proliferation of passive voice, copular verbs and the subjunctive mood is symptomatic of the legalistic distancing language used whenever a subjective element is expressed in a supposedly objective technical document.

When asked to explain its activist approach, one senior member told us, “we were an expert group, not a court. But all our factual findings are based on solid information/evidence which made us confident that we got the facts right. If you have the impression, that we simply took over the charges put forward by the opposition, this impression clearly is wrong. Many of the allegations (in particular those related to wire-tapping) were not contested by interlocutors from the government side. I am not aware of any reaction on our report, pointing out that we got the facts wrong.”

The Other Reason for Content-Over-Provenance: Limited Competencies

There is another interesting fact regarding why the team avoided investigating the provenance of the wiretaps- and the whole Verusevski aspect. It was not only because the case was already being handled by the courts (as the team and Hahn Cabinet state), but also because the experts did not feel themselves competent to investigate.

“We had long meetings and decided not to rush to judgment,” a senior expert told “We said, ‘let’s not cover [provenance-related issues], because we are not sure.’ So we decided to leave that aside and concentrate on the wiretaps.”

Thus, it appears clear that even had it wanted to investigate the case properly, the EU would have not been competent to do so.

Problems: Short Stays, a Reluctance to Investigate, and Unique Priorities

One of the major disconnects when dealing with Priebe Team members and the Hahn Cabinet is their unshakeable belief that the report is comprehensive, correct and not qualitatively flawed. The fundamental blame first falls on the Hahn Cabinet, in that it demanded such a rapid assessment. SITREPs are essential for advisory purposes, but they are not something that a government or institution should base an ambitious multi-year institutional policy on. Yet that is precisely what happened with the Priebe Report.

As anyone who understands Macedonia and the context of the issues could tell you, three visits by six individuals supported by bureaucrats is simply insufficient for making a legitimate assessment of anything- let alone sweeping policy suggestions. However, the team takes a different view.

“We had the time available we needed to produce a serious analysis of the situation,” says the senior expert. “Obviously, one could have spent much more time on the various (and on other) subjects, but this was not the intention. In any case, I do not think that there are any shortcomings of the report caused by undue time constraints… it would not have come out differently, even if we had had another year to work on it.”

In fact, if the team had been given more time, they would have spent it on “the media freedom situation”- a historic talking point among the opposition and its NGO supporters. This alleged national deficiency was lapped up by a credulous and ideologically sympathetically expert team. It indicates how strongly they were influenced by the media and NGO members who Orav arranged for them.

Indeed, if the EU expert team had been able to spend more time on ‘media freedom’ issues, their interlocutors would have most certainly been the precise media and NGO bodies that were and are heavily subsidized by the EU (as discussed in our first article). It is a perfect circle.

Another Problem: a Small Sample Size and No Evidence of Technical Examination

Another fatal flaw was the relatively insignificant sample size of content examined. The credulous authors of the Priebe Report reference (by number) what had been leaked as ‘bombs’ by Zaev since February 9, 2015. The grand total was “36 packages of recorded telephone conversations,” which equaled “500 pages of transcripted conversations.” At that time, the team reported, SDSM claimed that it had access “to over 20,000 such recorded conversations.”

However, over time many more recordings have emerged, even being leaked from other persons and countries, and SDSM has continually raised the number of recordings it claimed to possess. Indeed, Zaev stated on February 10, 2016 that the number he transferred to the Special Public Prosecutor was actually over one million.

Who knows what could be on these tapes, or why others were released instead of them? The discrepancy between the small sample size available to the Priebe team and the total amount of (largely, still unknown) data is startling. Only the Commission and the expert team do not regard this as a serious issue.

From reading the report and discussing with team members, there is no evidence to suggest that the Priebe Team asked the basic question of who transcribed 500 pages of conversations, and how long that process had taken; certainly, it could not have been done overnight. So when did the whole process begin?

This is a basic common-sense question, just as is that of why the government would record itself saying self-incriminating things. Again, the fundamental case returns to establishing provenance and motive first. But the team did not seriously consider consistent claims that the taped material was in some cases doctored or completely edited to cause deception.

There is also nothing in the Priebe Report that would indicate the team made technical assessments of the recorded files, as one might expect from a mission of ‘technical experts.’ Thus, unless a new investigative body is convened, we will never know whether audio editing of ‘evidence’ took place, and where.

The team also ignored clear evidence that SDSM had infiltrated not just the UBK and SIGINT, but the border police database (on April 1, 2015, Zaev released an Israeli citizen’s passport image and entry/exit information, clearly taken from that database on April 15, 2013). A detail like that would change the focus of the entire investigation if, of course, the EU had been interested in a real investigation.

A Dangerous Path to Truth

There is no evidence that the team sought forensic verification of content- rather, it examined the content, and believed that a certain amount of it surely indicated crime and corruption; this because, as two team members have told us, the government did not contest their claims.

This is a dangerous way of establishing truth in the Balkans, especially when one considers Macedonia’s unique political climate. In short, politicians here often have motives for their actions or statements that are based on other factors that could affect an outcome. They might smile politely and accept what you say, not because they agree but because it serves a tactical purpose at that specific moment. Certainly, the excuse that ‘nobody objected’ to the team’s assertions is not an objectively correct way of establishing the truth.

Thus we are left with a team that spent six days in Macedonia and based its assumptions on 36 packets of unverified ‘evidence,’ without seriously trying to establish the provenance of said evidence, who had executed the operation and why, nor whether the content had been modified (through audio and/or transcription), while ignoring evidence of a wider intelligence infiltration. But it gets worse.

Source Issues and Intelligence (Non) Meetings

Source issues are crucial for understanding the report’s problematic nature, and why certain decisions were made.

According to the report, the team met: Representatives of the Ministry of Interior, including the Director and staff of the intelligence service (UBK); State Public Prosecutor and members of the Prosecution Office; President and judges of the Supreme Court; President and members of the Judicial Council; Representatives of the associations of judges and prosecutors; Director of the Academy for Judges and Prosecutors; Judges and prosecutors working in the specialized court division and prosecution office dealing with organized crime and corruption; The Ombudsman and his staff ; Director and staff of the Data Protection Directorate; President and members of the State Election Commission; Speaker of the Parliament and members of two of its oversight committees. The group also met with representatives of relevant international organisations, non-governmental organisations, associations of lawyers and journalists.

The first interesting claim is that the team met with “representatives of the Ministry of Interior, including the Director and staff of the intelligence service (UBK).” Leaving aside the fact that the UBK is actually the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence – the Intelligence Agency is under the President’s office – it is unclear who they actually spoke with. This is important because of the personalities involved.

Indeed, the assertion that wiretapped material was created within interior ministry facilities is supported by footnote 6, which states that this “has been acknowledged to the group by the former Director of the intelligence service (UBK) and can also be inferred from the plea bargain admissions and subsequent conviction of a former employee of UBK.”

One can determine the latter’s identity from the news. As for the former, it is unclear. Was the group granted access to Zoran Verusevski himself, while still in jail? Neither they nor the Commission would say. If not, which former UBK chief did they speak with, and how was this particular person arranged for them, considering that all UBK chiefs have been politically appointed by one side or the other?

Similarly, the assertion that the group met with the (current) director of the UBK is also problematic. Saso Mijalkov, who headed the administration at the time of the team’s work, was one of Zaev’s two major targets in the wiretaps affair, and allegedly guilty of many crimes. He resigned on May 12, 2015 with this official resignation letter.

This is problematic because in December 2015 we asked a senior expert team member whether they did in fact meet Mijalkov: “yes, but only on our last visit,” was the reply. However, the team’s last visit was 18-20 May, six days after Mijalkov had resigned. His successor as UBK chief, Ljupco Andonovski, was not appointed until 27 May.

“They are lying if they say they met Mijalkov,” one intelligence official told “Maybe they met [police official Mitko] Chavkov, but not Mijalkov.”

If true, this would not be just a simple lapse; we are talking about the man who the Zaev camp alleged was behind both the wiretapping affair and sundry crime and corruption. We are not aware of any claim from Mijalkov, as to whether he did or not meet the Priebe team. In any case, whether or not they did meet Mijalkov, it is inexplicable why the team would have avoided this major figure until their report was essentially finished, given his central role in every aspect of the case. It reaffirms the general unserious nature of the EU’s intervention.

Source Issues and Political Influence

Whether or not they actually met Mijalkov, the Priebe Team certainly did not meet Zaev’s other alleged partner in crime, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. This was because of a procedural decision, however.

“We were keen to avoid seeming political, since it was purely technical work in a very sensitive technical level,” a senior team member told “We didn’t ask to see the prime minister because we did not want to involve politicians.”

However, the policy applied strictly to party leaders: the team was happy to meet deputy leaders. In May 2016, the The Hahn Cabinet told us that a meeting took place with “a representative of the political party which had come into possession of, and was publishing, the intercepted conversations.”

As was confirmed for us in discussions with a senior team member in December 2015, that politician was indeed Radmila Sekerinska, the SDSM Vice-President and a former protégé of deposed SDSM chief Branko Crvenkovski. Sekerinska has been the real leader of SDSM behind the scenes, with Zaev a mere figurehead. Literally everyone in Macedonia knows this.

Unfortunately for the Priebe Team’s credibility, they knew this too. As a senior team member admitted for us in December, “I knew quite well” that Sekerinska was the real SDSM leader at the time of their activities in Macedonia. Thus while the team but a ban on meeting party presidents as a policy, they were happy to meet a deputy president who they knew all the while to be the real leader.

In fact, the team member recalled that Sekerinska had been the “opposite number” of team leader Reinhard Priebe, when he had worked on Balkan issues for the EC from 2001-2006. As such, they had already enjoyed a “good working relationship” many years ago, this official states.

Macedonian media have long speculated about the extent of Sekerinska’s role in influencing the Priebe Report. This new inside testimony for is the first solid indication that these suspicions may have some validity.

In reconstructing the period, our estimate is therefore that two people had an inordinate influence on directing the schedules, interview subjects and orientation of the Priebe Team: Aivo Orav, the Delegation chief who we believe to have been under heavy blackmail at the time; and Radmila Sekerinska, the shadow president of the party making the allegations. If this assessment is correct, the Priebe Report – and subsequent EU reform efforts – would have to be re-examined.

An Unprecedented Order: Take Away the Toys

Yet there are still aspects of the Priebe team’s views that are even more troubling than source issues, linguistic register or political influence. Their most radical suggestion – not previously made by the EU – was the recommendation/order that the UBK be forced to give its SIGINT machinery to the telecom providers. (Try telling that to the NSA). While the team strongly believes that the current set-up is contrary to EU practice, the 2010 leaked EU document we provided in the previous article only noted that it was a different, perhaps unusual practice. But it not suggest drastic measures.

The exact text of the Priebe report reads:

“The UBK should have no direct access to the technical equipment allowing mirroring of the communication signal. The proprietary switches should be moved to the premises of the telecommunication providers. The providers should activate and divert signals to the competent law enforcement agencies (Police, Customs Administration and Financial Police) or the security agencies (the Security and Counterintelligence Service (UBK), the Intelligence Agency, and the Ministry of Defence’s military security and intelligence service) only upon receipt of the relevant court order, and only for the purposes of lawful interceptions. Under no circumstances should the UBK have the practical capability to capture communications directly.”

The team arrived at this edict from a number of perspectives, ranging from common practice in EU states to human rights and the rights of other intelligence bodies. But what they fundamentally failed to understand – because they deliberately did not investigate the provenance issue – is that misuse of this machinery was not due to the UBK as an institution. And it was due not a lack of parliamentary oversight, but a lack of internal oversight; without going into further details, it was specifically a human resources problem that created the conditions for illegal wiretaps to be made.

The Priebe Team was not interested in this. We pointed out that returning the equipment to the telecom providers would specifically mean returning to the set-up when Deutsche Telecom held a business and security monopoly in Macedonia.

A team member acknowledged for that they did in fact understand this reality. “Obviously, we were well aware of the ‘dimension’ of recommendation,” he stated. “I would not contest this [UBK hosting of equipment] in a normally functioning state, with rule of law and parliamentary oversight in place, but that is not the case in Macedonia… It is quite a far-reaching recommendation, but under the circumstances, the combination of the parliamentary oversight committee not functioning and so on, that triggered the recommendation.”

In other words, the ‘expert team’ proposal is based on a subjective perception of Macedonia, at a particular moment in time, and not on a law. And we have shown above that this perception was based on numerous factors leading to an incomplete and often subjective result.

“That Does Not Impress Me”

To date, the UBK has chosen not to follow the ‘divestment’ order. As an example of how SIGINT access is indispensable to modern anti-terrorism operations, we brought up the Kumanovo operation last May, in which a coordinated terrorist plot was only foiled because of the police’s existing SIGINT capacities. In fact, according to intelligence available to, SIGINT played the key role in identifying the plotters, who had planned to cause mass casualties in several Macedonian cities.

At this point, it is worth recalling the testimony of a veteran Macedonian intelligence official we noted in the third article of this series. He had said that in the days of Telecom’s monopoly, when there was no direct data access, it could take weeks or months for a tap request to be fulfilled. Had that structure been operational last year, thousands may have been killed.

“That does not impress me,” one senior Priebe Team member stated for, in consideration of the Kumanovo operation. “Any intelligence service will tell you that the more direct data they have, the better. I don’t agree.”

The reader can make his own conclusions.

Does Macedonia Even Need an Intelligence Service?

Finally, we must note that the Priebe Team’s lack of understanding goes beyond technocratic opinions such as the above ones. With the exception of Inspector Varanese, it is not clear that the team had any real understanding of Macedonia’s actual importance in European security – let alone its responsibilities for its own citizens – despite the objective reality of terrorism plots, organized crime concerns, and being on the direct route of Europe’s worse migration crisis in modern history.

Indeed, as one senior member mused in a December 2015 discussion with, “Macedonia is such a small country- why should it even need an intelligence service?”

Such an opinion would automatically disqualify anyone from participation in a serious job- except, of course, for the EU.

There is really nothing left to say.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 3: The Priebe Report in Context

By Chris Deliso

The reasons why the Hahn Commission perceived the Macedonian crisis as specifically a “rule-of-law” issue were discussed in this series’ previous article. The present analysis reveals that, far from a sudden change of policy, this technocratic perception existed since 2010, and was influenced by both EU legal norms and anti-government lobbying that created a chronic groupthink in Brussels.

The EU’s intervention from 2010 was driven by reaction to key legislation on interception of communications. This legislation itself followed the government’s procurement and use of Israeli-made SIGINT equipment- a system that was later compromised internally, leading to the bogus ‘wiretap affair’ that would be used to destroy state institutions in 2015-16.

In addition to the divergent interests of other players, the Zaev affair gave the EU an excuse to demand that Macedonia’s security architecture be radically reconfigured- though this conclusion had not been made in original 2010 analysis by the EU, and though it risks returning state security to the previous era, when the Deutsche Telecom monopoly was the country’s essential SIGINT gatekeeper.

The present analysis will document the development of this EU process, revealing how it led directly to the ill-conceived 2015 expedition of ‘experts’ discussed in the next part of this series.

The SIGINT Apple of Enmity

It is not clear when the Gruevski government, first elected in 2006, initially considered a SIGINT upgrade, but with its 2008 re-election the interior ministry received a large financial boost; this was criticized in summer 2008 by some diplomats, opposition, and ‘civil society’ groups. The Israeli-made communications interception equipment was purchased without tender, which is legally permissible for state investments where state secrets were involved. preserves the historical record, as we specifically raised the issue in an interview with then-Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska, on April 2, 2009. Before recounting several successful high-profile counter-terrorism and organized crime cases undertaken by the MOI, Jankulovska noted that before her tenure, “the police were working in the same old ways, with the same old equipment, and getting the same results. In the 21st century, it’s impossible to fight today’s sophisticated forms of crime with 20-year-old equipment.”

She was referring to outdated analog equipment being used then by both the ministry and Telecom. Interestingly, the interview also recalls that by summer 2008 the opposition SDSM’s talking points, shared with local diplomats and Brussels officials, already were warning that the government sought to create a ‘police state.’ This contention would deeply infect the discourse and SDSM/civil society public relations with Brussels since then.

For the sake of inclusiveness of views, we raised this concern in 2009. Minister Jankulovska replied that “believe me, the police has more than enough work to do fighting the existing criminal and security threats- we have neither the time nor intention to deal with anything else.”

This context is essential because it helps explain why the EU (and Western media) so eagerly and credulously lapped up Zoran Zaev’s February 2015 “government wiretapping” allegations. The psychological conditioning had been going on for years, as the historical record and personal experience prove; all that anti-government forces needed was a convenient excuse.

Macedonian SIGINT as a Threat to the Balance of Regional Power

However, there is more to the story than simple animosity towards a particular government or party. The greater danger for Western powers was that improved security capacities would give Macedonia too much independence. Macedonian modernization also threatened to upset the carefully-maintained balance of regional (in)stability and intelligence capacities. The fact that Macedonian had purchased the gear from Israel, neither a NATO nor EU member, did not go unnoticed either by EU governments or the corporate lobbyists that control them.

In any country, SIGINT equipment fascinates the public. Deeper than that, Macedonia’s new acquisition actually caused serious concerns within rival intelligence agencies. For example, it reduced the BND’s competitive advantage, as the local Deutsche Telecom investment had, as said, served as gatekeeper. Aside from giving the Germans what they wanted, the set-up severely hampered Macedonian investigative capacities.

“It was very frustrating,” recalls one senior Macedonian intelligence official active during the period for “Even after the prosecutor’s office gave us permission [to request wiretaps], it might be weeks or months before the operator would cooperate. So the intelligence was not any longer useful in many cases after such a delay.”

The Germans were not the only losers. Macedonian law enforcement was becoming too successful; a long period of peace, stability and prosperity would reduce the capacity of foreign powers to influence government towards pre-determined policies. It was a very frustrating time for foreign operators as several violent disruption plots were destroyed in pre-planning phases.

However, rather than kill the system that was causing such irritation, some clever major players decided to just take it over, to use local assets to compromise the system from within. is aware of the identity of these people and the approximate date when the operation began, though there are still some grey areas. It is also possible that the foreign operators lost control over their local assets after a certain point; what is sure is that it will take more time and context to tell the whole story.

Having a local asset inside a SIGINT system is also useful in that the content it provides is from a ‘unique’ and unrelated source. Thus while big entities like NSA or GCHQ can and do tap everything on earth, their own primary data does not ‘exist’ as far as the public is concerned; therefore, to ensure ‘plausible deniability,’ it is helpful for big players to have local protégés working from their own systems. Thus even if the data is identical, there is a layer of separation between two simultaneous operations, meaning that only the local one need ever be referenced or identified for media or political i/ops. This is probably what happened in Macedonia.

EU Orientation

For its part, while influenced by member states and specific diplomats, the EU was, as usual, living in its own rarified universe. It sought to do what it does best and regulate, criticize, and parse legal terms in regular meetings with officials and on annual progress reports.

Such reports are informed by data from Delegation offices (such as monthly Pre-Accession Reports) and Brussels desk analysts. When compiling the annual progress reports for candidate countries, they go down a well-defined set of categories and insert their interpretation of reality. This comes from both original research and political lobbying; in Macedonia’s case, owing to the name issue, Greek Commission officials are always vigilant to police the wording of every text involving the country and can introduce their own particular scrutiny, which often causes internal discord.

Explaining the EU’s “Rule-of-Law Issue” Perception: the Importance of Section 4.24

The fact that the 2015 Expert Team’s focus on rule-on-law issues was decided before, and not after, the team had even begun its investigations does not primarily reflect the EU’s historic disdain for the Gruevski government. It was simply easier for the bureaucracy to categorize the issue. Zaev’s allegations made the report content fit comfortably within a specific section of reports on candidate countries- Section 4.24.

As discussed by the CEP here, Chapter 24 of the EU acquis tracks applicant countries’ progress on issues involving Justice, Freedom and Security.  A careful comparison of the relevant sections of each annual progress report from 2009-2014 indicates that the EU did not get antagonistic until October 2010- in part, influenced by an internal document from that June, which we will reveal for the first time. The two major issues, then and now, have been parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services, and the legal requirements of telecom operators to provide data access to the security services.

Section 4.24 of the 2009 Progress Report on Macedonia concludes on a rather positive note that “the weaknesses in parliamentary control over the security and counter-intelligence administration have been addressed. Deficiencies in judicial control over the security and counter-intelligence administration with regard to executing the orders of the public prosecutor to monitor communications, notably concerning the location of the relevant equipment, have been addressed.”

Further, the 2009 report adds, “the Law on Monitoring of Communications is being implemented smoothly, although the relevant parliamentary committee has not been very active. Work on establishing an integrated intelligence system for inter-agency use is in progress. This should remedy the existing shortcomings in sharing intelligence and in mutual access to databases at interagency level.”

Things would seem well and good; however, 2010 saw a fundamental (and permanent) change in the EU’s approach to Macedonia on the SIGINT issue, which would eventually explode in the pages of the Priebe Report in 2015.

The change in tone is visible in Section 4.24 of the November 2010 EU Progress Report on Macedonia. “Amendments to the Law on electronic communications have been enacted, including technical provisions on the obligations of the telecommunication operators regarding the implementation of interception orders.”

However, while “the implementation of the Law on interceptions has strengthened the effectiveness of investigations,” the EU report continued, “the direct involvement of the Ministry for the Interior in authorising the use of interceptions is against EU standards. Moreover, the external [i.e., parliamentary] oversight mechanism needs to be strengthened.”

These criticisms resumed in Section 4.24 of the October 2011 EU Progress Report on Macedonia. “The direct involvement of the Minister of Interior in authorising the use of interceptions remains in place and the Law on interception of communications has yet to be amended,” stated the EU.

“Moreover the existing parliamentary oversight over the use of interception orders needs to be strengthened. The overly restrictive and centralised application of the interceptions inadequately addresses the increasing threat of organised crime.”

In the next two years, legislative challenges and amendments were noted but the criticism remains similar in the October 2013 EU Progress Report on Macedonia. It notes that while “amendments to the Law on Interception of Communications, removing the direct involvement of the Minister of Interior in authorising interceptions, entered into force,” nevertheless, “the secondary legislation regulating its enforcement in detail and safeguarding against undue influence in the execution of interception orders, remains to be adopted.”

The 2013 EU report added that “the Law on Electronic Communications still needs to be amended to take into account the Constitutional Courts annulment of certain articles which imposed overly broad obligations on operators to provide access to communications networks.”

However, in its final report before the crisis, the EU in its October 2014 progress report noted that “the Law on Electronic Communications was amended, taking into account the Constitutional Court’s 2010 annulment of certain articles relating to access to communication networks.” Yet if the EU was satisfied by legislative developments in 2014, why did the backlash months later rely on opinions from earlier years?

The 2010 EU Delegation Internal Document

The formative period of 2009-2010 for EU attitudes on SIGINT in Macedonia is attested in a document leaked to by a European official back in 2010. Uploaded by here, it is the May-June PAR (Pre-Accession Report) crafted by the EU Delegation in Skopje at the time. All of the persons involved in writing it at that time are listed within.

These regular PAR reports cover the specific acquis criteria in order, referring to recent developments. While the authors covered the whole range of local topics in the report, they took special interest to provide a lengthy analysis of the SIGINT issue. Their observations then directly shaped the 2010 annual report mentioned above- and the trajectory of subsequent EU intervention in 2015. Available now for the first time, this internal document might thus be the best resource for understanding the historic development of EU policy in this regard in Macedonia.

The 2010 Reaction to Amendments of the Law on Electronic Communications

The PAR report noted that parliament in June had enacted the amendments to the law on electronic communications, which had been passed in 2005. The main problem with that law, the EU report noted, was that “initially it comprised only one article referring to the obligations of the operators” in their responsibility “to provide adequate equipment and interface for the implementation of interceptions.” What the 2010 amendments did, therefore, was to clarify the operators’ role and responsibility before the state security bodies.

Interestingly, even the EU report confirms what intelligence sources (such as the officer mentioned above) attested. “Before the enactment of these amendments MoI was confronted with some difficulties as regards the operators’ responsiveness towards the interception requests (i.e. their obligations were not clearly set up in the law and therefore there were cases when for ex. the operators sent the traffic-related data to MoI after an excessive period of time when the information became obsolete for the investigations).”

While the EU was thus indisputably aware even in 2010 of the problems faced by law enforcement, it also noted protests made by “civil society” groups claiming that the amendments would lead to what has been cheaply packaged since 2015 as a ‘police state.’

“ The provisions most contested by the civil society stipulate, among others, that the telecommunication operators are obliged to deliver traffic-related data upon request of the competent authorities in the course of pre-investigations or during criminal proceedings or when required by security and defence reasons,” the PAR report thus continued.

The Main Issue in 2010: ‘Continuous and Direct Access’

“Operators are also obliged to provide ‘continuous and direct access’ of the competent authorities to their electronic communication networks, as well as conditions for independent taking over of traffic-related data,” the report added. “The same is provided for the information on the geographical, physical and logistic location of the terminal equipment of the subscribers. Another controversial provision regards the period of time during which traffic-related data may be kept (i.e. 24 months).”

The EU report also noted that, even then, the Committee for the oversight of the use of interception of communications had “a composition dominated by the opposition parties,” which unsurprisingly “issued a negative opinion on the amendments to law.” From this comment and from personal memory, it is clear that the EU Skopje Delegation was lobbied by such opposition figures to similarly disapprove of the amendments.

Future EU reports would reveal that the ‘continuous and direct access’ clause was a major sticking point. And, while announcing the “NGO sector” would issue a challenge to the Constitutional Court, it also noted that the then-general public prosecutor, Ljupco Svrgovski, stated that with the amendments, “the Ministry of Interior (MoI) is thus put in a privileged position as the only institution which is implementing interception orders, since the public prosecutors have no technical capacity to enforce the interceptions.”

However, as the report also noted, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the MoI and the representatives of the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office for Fight against Corruption and Organised Crime “pointed out that interceptions are regulated by the law on interception of communications and that the law on electronic communications sets up simply the obligations of the operators. According to the above-mentioned authorities, the law on electronic communications does not replace or add to any provision to the law on interceptions, i.e. no interception can be carried out without court or public prosecutor order.”

In its analysis, the EU noted that “all interceptions carried out without court or public prosecutor order are illegal and cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.” This remained the essential issue in 2015 and was the reason for legal impasses regarding Zaev’s leaked material: according to both his side and the government’s, these wiretapped conversations had been created illegally. They just disagreed on who had done so.

For the EU in June 2010, “the most disputable provisions” of the amended law were “the ones according to which ‘the operators of public communication networks and public communication service providers shall be obliged to provide the competent authorities continuous and direct access to their electronic communication networks, as well as conditions for independent taking over of traffic-related data.’

The EU averred than that “the very wide and ambiguous formulation of the provisions on access to network may lead to abusive use of interceptions by the police or by the operators. This might be even more confusing since for some articles like the ones covering the data on location there is an express reference to the conditions of the law (i.e. on interception of communications) while for the article on access to network this reference is omitted.”

In its analysis, the EU continued to add that “the interception equipment is placed solely within the MoI which is the only institution that implements the interception orders,” and such enjoyed “a privileged position as opposed to other law enforcement agencies which are entitled according to the law to perform interceptions.”

These arguments were directly made, not only by successive annual reports, but by the 2015 Priebe report. However, as of June 2010, the EU report only noted this location issue as a fact, not necessarily an existential problem.

“According to the law on interception of communications, Customs Administration and Financial Police would also be entitled to implement interceptions, but they have no equipment to apply such investigative measures.” The June 2010 report assessed. “Public prosecutors do not have interception equipment at their disposal either.” Although it did not elaborate, a possible solution for this imbalance would simply be to recommend these bodies get their own equipment.

In the end, the June 2010 report concluded that the law’s “ambiguous legal wording” regarding the terms ‘continuous’ and ‘direct’ access to communication networks “may create the premise for an even more uneven distribution of powers among the law enforcement agencies as far as interceptions are concerned.”

Intriguingly, however, the Skopje Delegation did not seem particularly concerned about the actual SIGINT equipment’s use – only the legalese surrounding its use and accessability. It was other states and interests, not the EU technocrats, who considered the equipment as a threat to the balance of international power.

For example, regarding the stipulated ‘independent’ take over of traffic-related data by the MoI, the EU admitted that “even before the entry into force of this law interception of communications were being carried out by two modalities: either through the operator or through direct access of the MoI (i.e. with their own equipment) to the communication networks (the latter being most frequently used, since it is the safest to avoid any possible leak of information and since MoI is endowed with its own equipment and has staff specialised on these matters). Inious this context, ‘conditions for independent taking over of traffic-related data’ refers to this latter modality of implementing interceptions.”

The Fundamental Difference between Previous EU Policy and the Priebe Report’s Suggestions

In other words, while it did not endorse the MOI’s use of its own SIGINT equipment, the EU did not state that its existence was a problem in and of itself. While the June 2010 did predict certain possible scenarios for vulnerabilities related to legal wording and the “tensions” between law enforcement groups that might result from perceived centralization of SIGINT control, it did not suggest that the equipment itself be removed from the MOI and given to the telecom operators.

The Priebe Report, however, would demand precisely the latter: that since the ministry (and by close extension, the government) had been acting like a naughty child, its toys should be taken away.

As we will see in the next installment of this series, five years of constant opposition lobbying in Brussels would not fail to have an effect. The EU ‘experts’ who were credulous enough to take Zoran Zaev’s charges at face value simply built on the existing paperwork and came up with an arbitrary punitive measure that neither reflected the reality of the situation, nor offered a sustainable and realistic way forward for Macedonian state security.

Yet even before the team made these final sweeping recommendations in its 2015 report – which political parties have treated as some kind of indisputable, sacred book – it had had its own problematic elements. These elements, which will be examined in the following article, further call into question the objectivity and credibility of the report and everything that its findings set into motion from June 2015.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 2: Introduction to the Priebe Report

By Chris Deliso

As the foundation document upon which the July 2015 Przino Agreement was directly based, the EU Expert Team report (the Priebe Report, uploaded by here) represents the single most important event in the 2015 Macedonia intervention.

Analyzing the report reveals (among much else) that, at its hard bureaucratic core, the EU utilizes operational capacities that create undemocratic realities; as in other cases, a small number of anonymous foreign ‘experts’ were allowed to determine the fate of an entire country.

While Macedonia’s political party leaders still pledge to implement the Priebe Report’s “reforms,” local and foreign media have not investigated the report itself- including its underlying rationale, personnel, logistics arrangements, policy priorities, technical execution- and the ramifications that its conclusions would have for Western crisis response in managing, and prolonging the crisis.

A Most Civilized Murder

The EU may be owned by corporations and guided by invisible lobbyists, but in general it is not an aggressive actor; instead, it offers death by a thousand footnotes. So while the means and methods of exacting a result may differ from those of a military intervention, the EU intervention through its Expert Team reached a similarly political result.  The beauty of the system is that those most directly involved are always hidden within the black hole of EU bureaucracy. The purpose of such methods is to limit transparency and any chance of deeper inquiries.

Therefore, given the Priebe Report’s historic significance for Macedonia and foreign involvement there, has conducted the first such analysis. Our 10-month investigation is based on official EU Skopje Delegation interviews, leaked documents, and written testimony from the Hahn Cabinet, as well as interviews with high-level Expert Team members, EU diplomats, European security and intelligence officials and other informed sources. This multi-part investigation will examine, with minute precision, the facts about EU involvement in Macedonia through its team of experts and their influential report.

Our series will thus hopefully be useful for anyone seeking to understand the trajectory of events in Macedonia since late January 2015.

A Problem of Timing

It is debatable whether the Macedonian crisis began on April 27, 2014 (when SDSM leader Zoran Zaev refused to accept the election results), or on January 23, 2015 (when former SDSM-era counterintelligence chief Zoran Verusevski was arrested), or on January 31, 2015 (when PM Nikola Gruevski addressed the nation to announce the blackmail scenario and coup that the two had allegedly planned).

However, the Priebe Report cites none of these. Like the very effective foreign media coverage in following months, it settled on February 9, 2015- the date when Zaev started releasing what the report describes as “a large number of illegally intercepted communications.”

Obviously, the European Commission, intelligence services and diplomatic missions involved with Macedonia had been watching the situation carefully since the April elections. However, the EU’s slow reacted to events indicates that it was surprised by the Verusevski arrest- one of the many tactical failures that have characterized the period of The Great Unraveling, in which the locals have always been one step ahead of the foreigners.

The Fog of War: Timing and Deployment

For a truly comprehensive analysis of the EU reaction and decision to deploy an Expert Team, it would be necessary to know precisely when and how the EU first reacted. However, the Hahn Cabinet did not respond to our requests for clarification. did however interview other Expert Team members, including a very senior member of the group, in December 2015 in person and by phone in April 2016. This individual, who supplied a wealth of otherwise unknown inside details, did not “remember the exact date” when the Commission first reacted to the crisis, nor when it decided specific policy actions. The group was created, he recalls, “in March [2015] to support the Commission’s work and to advise it.” Nevertheless, the team member concedes, it is possible that “plans for such a group and discussions with FYROM authorities might have [begun] earlier.” Again due to the non-cooperation of the Hahn Cabinet, we could not clarify these dates further.

Interestingly, this key source specified that the early intercession of three MEPS (Richard Howitt from Britain, Eduard Kukan from Slovakia and Ivo Vajgl from Slovenia) was “quite useful. It gave political weight in the European Parliament and Commission to the idea that, since technical issues were involved related to rule of law, technical experts were needed to provide concrete advice.”

Nevertheless, EU experts were not deployed until late April, by which time the already fluid operative conditions were very different. SDSM’s ‘bombs’ campaign was ongoing, while the majority of the public was amused or infuriated by Zaev’s behavior. Unknown to many, a terrorist plot directed from Kosovo was in formation, and opposition protest activity was visible.

Most importantly, the prosecutor’s office was also getting dangerously close to unraveling the whole network behind the failed coup. Although Verusevski was still in jail, Zaev had never been arrested (merely, his passport was taken). Things were becoming, as the EU noted, “urgent.” But for whom?

When asked about the perceived delay in taking action, the senior expert told us that “I do not think it took the Commission an unusually long time to enable us to go on our first mission to Skopje. The team had to be composed, people needed to be available, and some preparation work needed to be done in advance of the first meeting.”

Key Dates

According to the official report, the Priebe Team made only three trips to Macedonia: 20-22 April; 3-5 May, and 17-20 May. The fluidity of events also ensured that these visits coincided with different political and security circumstances as the overall drama unfolded.

The report was published finally on June 8, 2015. While the caveat was made that it represented the views of the (unnamed) authors, and not necessarily represent those of the Commission, the latter took every recommendation on board when Delegation leader Aivo Orav and the Commission negotiated with the four political parties (VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, DUI and DPA) to reach the July 15, 2015 Przino Agreement.

Therefore, the Priebe Report is the founding document of the politically-negotiated settlement. And it has had serious ramifications for Macedonian politics and security, which include the creation of a parallel justice system (the Special Prosecutor’s Office, founded in fall 2015), and recommendations that, if followed, will severely impair national and international security.

Most recently, the Enlargement Committee indirectly referred to the Priebe Report at the June 15, 2016 Stabilisation and Association Committee meeting between Macedonia and the EU (led by David Cullen from the Hahn Cabinet). According to an official press release, the meeting discussed “the importance of the implementation of the Przino agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities, without any further delay and in an inclusive manner, in order to return the country to an EU path.”

The so-called “Urgent Reform Priorities” refer to the findings of the Priebe Report, that were formally adopted in June by the Commission.

The History of Hahn’s First Decision: a “Two-Track” Approach Dependent on a Rule-of-Law Perception

According to background information sent to from the Hahn Cabinet on May 20, 2016, the Commission decided from the beginning to take a “two-track approach to “the wiretap scandal.” This confirms that thinking in Brussels has never changed- their overall engagement was triggered following Zaev’s activities starting February 9, 2015. For them (and much of the media) that day constitutes the beginning of history regarding the Macedonian crisis. This is a false assumption, but one that is extremely significant, as we will see.

Our fully-documented timeline of official correspondence with the Hahn Cabinet and EU Delegation in Skopje was discussed in the first part of this series. As was true with our requests there, Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič has failed to reply to key follow-up questions.

For instance, it is unclear who proposed, and when, the EU’s chosen policy path. The Hahn Cabinet told us that the “envisioned” ‘Track One’ involved political facilitation of “that crisis” by Commissioner Hahn. This process, it was noted, was at an (unstated) later date supported by the above-mentioned MEPs. This, according to the Cabinet, resulted in the Przino Agreement of July 2015.

Interestingly, considering the heavy overlap between the Priebe Report and the final Przino Agreement, the Cabinet continues to regard the second, “Track two” as somehow separate from the first. According to the Cabinet, this involved “sending a team of senior rule of law experts to examine, and make recommendations on, the serious systemic rule of law issues which were revealed or confirmed as a result of the publication of the illegal interception of communications (wiretaps) over preceding years.”

It is therefore clear that the Hahn Cabinet from the beginning understood the crisis as a rule-of-law issue, rather than a counter-intelligence failure, human resources problem, or even just a good old-fashioned mystery. The Commission’s perception, therefore, led the EU to a tacit endorsement of SDSM’s charges. The entire Priebe Report investigation would follow this trajectory- and not only due to EU preferences, but also due to several cover-ups that can be discussed later in the series.

Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič has failed to reply to our query regarding whether the “two-track” approach was decided simultaneously from the beginning, or if the second came after the first at some later point. She has also failed to clarify whether the whole policy came from Hahn’s own brain or was a result of collective musings with others. These could quite conceivably have included Federica Mogherini, the Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Commissioner, and Dimitris Avramopoulos and his Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commission. Both of these have powerful anti-Macedonian lobbyists within, and the competencies of both involved all of Macedonia’s converging issues of 2015, including the migrant crisis.

The Fatal Decision: Content over Provenance

The EU’s original perception that Macedonia’s ‘crisis’ was a rule-of-law issue rather than literally anything else has had serious ramifications for the trajectory of all crisis diplomacy. It has forced the EU and its Western cohorts to impose locally unpopular measures that have significantly damaged the credibility of these powers among the majority of Macedonians.

This is forcing some very frustrated foreigners to support increasingly violent protest actors, while enforcing political stagnation. Since summer is coming, there will be a two-month lull during which time the various sides will reappraise their strategies for fall. The tragedy is that all of this could have been handled differently and resolved from the beginning, though – for reasons only partly involving EU preferences – it wasn’t.

Rather, the fundamental preliminary question should have been this: whether to investigate where Zaev’s SIGINT material came from, how it was acquired and for what purpose (provenance), or what this material comprised (content assessment). There is no evidence to suggest that anyone in the EU ever seriously pondered this difference.

Johannes Hahn, the MEPs, and all the experts they assembled preferred the latter option, despite seriously problematic aspects including claims of content tampering (a technical issue) and active lobbying of a credulous EU by opposition leaders (a political one). A Dutch diplomat recently reaffirmed this for us, stating that the West perceived the crisis as “a clear rule-of-law issue” in a country where allegedly “a small group of leaders want to control everything.” Two months ago, a Greek diplomat in Skopje echoed this sentiment in comments for

New intelligence also indicates that several prominent Western embassies have, throughout the crisis, been coordinating their situation reports sent to their foreign ministries, so that any cross-checks between superiors of their various countries will not reveal any differences. Thus continues the echo chamber phenomenon concerning Western perceptions of Macedonia.

Observing the unfolding crisis from close-up on a daily basis, it was very clear that not only local opposition politicians, but Western diplomats in Skopje as well, were lobbying the EU to treat the whole affair as a rule-of-law issue in which the Gruevski government was the culprit.

And yet, incredibly, none of these people – not the diplomats, the technocrats, nor the media – ever stopped to ask the obvious question: why would the government make self-incriminating wiretaps of its own leaders?

Nevertheless, the foreign media and diplomats eagerly lapped up and repeated the Zaev allegation that “20,000 persons” in Macedonia had been wiretapped by “the regime,” without any critical inquiry into the veracity of the claim. And, despite the government’s insistence that the taped material had been manipulated, the EU decided that this was not relevant.

In short, the EU was (and is) not interested in discovering truth; rather, it saw the crisis as an opportunity to exert its political will, and thus to achieve a ‘result.’ The excuse provided at the time – and now – by the EU is that the prosecution would investigate any provenance-related issues, while the EU would research the content-related issues.

With an almost touching naiveté regarding the EU’s good intentions, Nikola Gruevski accepted the deployment of the EU’s Expert Team. Unless he should pen a tell-all memoir someday, we will never know what pressure he was put under to accept this team, or why he reneged on his early promise to the public, to reveal the foreign intelligence operators behind the coup attempt.

But one thing is clear: the moment when the government accepted the EU’s deployment, Macedonia relinquished its sovereignty, perhaps forever.

Whether or not the country ever implements the so-called “urgent reform priorities” dictated by the Priebe Report and the following Przino Agreement, both are deeply flawed and deserve intense scrutiny. It is unlikely that they will lead to truth, justice- and hardly the much-needed process of reconciliation. We will explore the reasons for this assessment when The Great Unraveling series continues tomorrow.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 1: Assessing EU Behavior

By Chris Deliso

-The work of independent media is crucial for good governance and a properly functioning democracy. Johannes Hahn, EU Enlargement Commissioner

-Fuck the EU. Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State

Although the EU has been heavily invested in negotiating Macedonia’s so-called ‘political crisis,’ it has been relatively ineffective. The bloc’s failure has frustrated Washington and Berlin, which in mid-May appointed its own special envoy, Ambassador to Austria Johannes Haindl. Despite statements to the contrary, this decision indicated the EU is perceived as having failed.

Introduction to the Latest Failure

Some might say that EU intervention since February 2015 has failed because of diplomatic arrogance, poor analysis, lack of predictive capabilities, and an inability to understand local realities, including cultural and behavioral differences and political preferences. All of these factors are to some extent correct.

The EU’s bureaucratic character is another major factor in the Macedonian malfunction. As the (overt) lead actor, it has reacted unsurprisingly: by crafting expert reports, demanding urgent reforms, throwing around money, and making incongruously idealistic affirmations. The essential predictability, inflexibility and non-accountability of Brussels diplomacy have allowed local and foreign actors to influence and manipulate EU decision-making and operations.

Perception and Reality in the Macedonian Pressure Chamber

While EU representatives have talked tough since February 2015 in public, behind the scenes they have felt threatened, frustrated and even terrified by events that constitute a crisis for them more than for most locals. As such, the crisis has shown how easily EU bureaucracy and operations can be paralyzed. This exposes the key vulnerability of a bloc aspiring to be a global player.

Numerous informed sources attest that EU officials in Skopje and Brussels have been pressured heavily by member states, intelligence agencies, political parties and ideological activists. Within the Skopje Delegation itself, some 40 of a total 70 staff are local, allowing rich possibilities for foreign and local infiltration. In a country built on rumors, the EU is the leakiest vessel in the harbor.

As such, in Macedonia perception is often treated more seriously than reality, and it actually influences official behavior and decisions. Thus, since fall 2014, even before the crisis began, scandals and perceived scandals associated with European involvement have severely limited the capabilities of Johannes Hahn’s Enlargement Commission and the Skopje EU Delegation, led (for a little while longer) by Aivo Orav. These men have been forced to cover for other people’s problems, while other dueling interests also brought them personally into the crisis as time passed, chronically paralyzing the EU’s communications systems.

Indeed, Macedonia will not be an enviable assignment for the man tipped to replace Orav in August, Samuel Zbogar, with whom we discussed local realities earlier this month. Good luck to him.

A Note Regarding EU Influence on Our Publication Timing

Our current series would have appeared in some form long ago, had it not been for chronic poor cooperation from the EU in Skopje, and to a lesser extent the Hahn cabinet in Brussels. By virtue of this inaction, the EU has both worked against media freedom and reaffirmed the delusional paranoia its representatives have exhibited throughout the crisis.

The current introductory analysis, therefore, chronicles EU communications paralysis during the crisis. This factual context is critical to understanding our coverage of the EU’s Macedonian misadventure since February 2015, which we will analyze in depth throughout this series.

Critical Players and Critical Restrictions

During the crisis, EU and US diplomats have been united when dealing with local politicians and media. The more interventionist-minded European powers, special envoys, and dangerously incompetent supranational organizations like the OSCE have also gotten involved. All of these have been long penetrated by local and foreign political and intelligence interests, which have acted as subterranean drivers of the crisis.

“[Avoiding this penetration risk] is probably why Russian embassies, unlike us, generally do not hire local staff,” a representative of the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security told last summer during a special visit to Skopje. It was a logical point. Speaking highly of the Bureau, one retired US diplomat tells us that “they are the cops. They are the investigators.” It is unclear whether the EU, as a 28-nation bloc, can utilize a similarly robust and unified internal investigations mechanism, but certainly due to its multinational construction, the EU is more prone to failures with disastrous results, as this week’s coverage will show.

Both on the surface and beneath it, Commissioner Hahn and Ambassador Orav have been criticized relentlessly and often unfairly by all sides (even ‘friendly’ ones). For example, on 8 June 2015, at a key period in crisis diplomacy efforts, Hahn was criticized in an EU Observer article penned by Nikola Dimitrov (a former Macedonian diplomat) and Erwan Fouere (Orav’s direct predecessor as EU Delegation chief in Skopje).

Fouere’s preference for the leftist opposition SDSM was always clear. In the years preceding the crisis, his statements and actions contributed to negative perceptions of the EU in a fairly conservative country. Indeed, the significance of Western diplomatic attitudes between 2009 and 2012 in alienating the public cannot be overstated when trying to understand the crisis. What the EU somehow still does not seem to understand is that for the past decade, its chief representatives have been perceived as politically subjective and out of touch with local values. As such, the EU’s own diplomatic behavior locally has killed its credibility as an overall institution for many Macedonians. Its handling of the crisis has only confirmed pre-existing suspicions.

But Hahn and Orav have at least tried to remain objective, unlike their recruited random Belgian, Peter Vanhoutte, who enjoyed a nebulous but well-paying role as EU mediator. Vanhoutte never hid his personal preference for the SDSM over conservative rival VMRO-DPMNE, and his perceived subjectivity further increased anti-EU sentiment domestically.

Indeed, Vanhoutte’s approach antagonized VMRO-DPMNE so much that it ultimately chose to stop working with him, on 21 February 2016. The party announced that from then on, he would be “no more than a tourist” to it because of his insulting attitude towards party negotiators and his tendency “to belittle the people and the Republic of Macedonia.” The Belgian became briefly semi-famous for his mocking cat memes on Twitter. Such behavior reinforced public opinion that the EU was an arrogant and disrespectful player whose diplomatic overtures were not to be taken seriously.

Currently, sources close to Hahn attest that he has become frustrated with Macedonia, and would prefer the whole situation disappear. Meanwhile, Orav, who had until recently been seen regularly at press briefings with American counterpart Jess Baily, has all but vanished. We will discuss the reasons for this later on in the series.

EU Self-Defense Mechanism 1: Funding Friends and Extremists

The EU talks a lot about the need for greater media freedom, transparency and access to information in Macedonia. Yet it itself does precisely the opposite. The bloc excels at covering its vulnerabilities in several ways.

The first is perpetuating cash-and-access patronage networks, in which EU (and member-state and other) funded media and NGOs enjoy access to high officials and institutions. In a sympathetic March 2010 feature on Hahn, Politico noted his instinct even then for solving problems with money. “Hahn intends to continue the new practice of making funds available to regions in every EU state. Questionable as this may be from an economic perspective, it could prove politically shrewd. As one lobbyist says, ‘If money is available to everyone, nobody is going to protest,’” stated the article.

Of course, the cash-and-access scheme was firmly in place in Macedonia long before Hahn became Enlargement Commissioner in 2014. And these tactics are of course used by sundry governments and interests around the world. In the Balkans, the patronage network system guarantees that those who enjoy EU (and other foreign) largesse will stand by their patrons, perpetuating the fatal illusion that the majority of local people also support the EU’s policies and approach.

The patronage scheme has also sustained parallel networks in the Balkans, often through ‘civil society’ groups connected with political parties. Such groups can be mobilized for (sometimes, violent) policy purposes, as has occurred with the latest artificial Macedonian protest movement (the so-called ‘Colorful Revolution’). The EU is hardly the only supporter of the movement, which has become the sharp end of the spear in a quixotic and violent campaign to impose foreign political goals.

However, Macedonians know that such protest movements are not endemic, and would simply evaporate without foreign funds. The EU’s failure to criticize recent destructive behavior, damage to public property, violence against police and even protesters blocking people from getting to the hospital has only increased the majority perception that the EU is acting against state (and basic human) interests.

Yet this patronage scheme has actually harmed EU reform goals over time in other ways. Over the past decade, the scheme has sustained a perverse symbiotic relationship, in which the continued popularity of what civil society activists condemn as a ‘totalitarian’ and ‘fascist regime’ perpetuates their own funding cycles and overall raison d’être. The self-imposed exile into civil society of intelligent, liberal-minded young people has actually contributed directly to the lack of qualified personnel in the opposition ranks. “I know Macedonia needs a strong opposition,” then-Prime Minister Gruevski admitted a few years back, according to one former US diplomat in Macedonia. “But I can’t make them improve themselves.”

EU Self-Defense Mechanism 2: Evade, Avoid, Escape

Like most diplomats, EU personnel may make decisions based on their own expected duration in a country or on a project. In controversial situations, such as in Macedonia recently, their choices are thus conditioned by temporal expectations as well as by any engagement’s perceived rate of risk. Our experience illustrates precisely how the EU’s evade and avoid, escape defense mechanism works in practice.

As stated, the EU in Skopje and in Brussels have been largely uncooperative with our information requests throughout the crisis. This has impacted in two ways: first, it has proven detrimental to EU interests and increased their paranoia levels; second, it has significantly slowed down our research. By deliberately avoiding transparency, the EU has actually made a bad situation much worse.

EU Media Engagement during the Macedonian: The Two Media Policies in Action

As said, our research has been affected by official EU communications failure. Our timeline of crisis-period communications is as follows.

In a group email to journalists of 19 June 2015, Aivo Orav wrote: “please let me sincerely apologise for being late at yesterday’s ceremony for awarding the EU Investigative Journalism Award… without trying to make any excuses and explanations, I would simply like to apologise and promise that we will do our best to avoid similar situations happening again.”

Assuming that such statements indicated Mr Orav’s eagerness to assist media, we wrote to a Skopje Delegation spokesman on June 28, 2015 to ask for further information regarding the EU’s (then recent) Expert Team and general activity in the crisis. There was no reply.

On July 15, 2015 we wrote directly to Orav, noting that we had sent “two messages to the responsible spokespersons in the EU mission and EEAS mission in Skopje, but not heard back, unfortunately.” Again, there was no reply. Then, on 20 July, a spokesman simply wrote: “please note that the ambassador will not be giving interviews in the next period.” However, over the “next period,” Orav was constantly active in public life; it appears the EU has different policies for different media.

In fairness, there was some internal confusion over when Orav would actually leave; several diplomatic sources state that it depended partly on the crisis resolution, which has proven slower than expected. This still does not explain the Delegation’s lack of cooperation, however.

We tried writing the Delegation again on May 5, 2016. Finally, a meeting was planned for 13 May. However, Orav managed to escape at the last minute, as a meeting with the incoming German special envoy was more pressing. After another request, on May 16 a spokesman replied: “I have alerted the ambassador twice about the need to meet with you. Believe me, we are doing our best to get to him. I have asked his secretary to contact you directly as soon as she has a reply.” Of course, there was no reply. We again requested meetings in writing on May 20 and May 28.

While Orav has not cooperated with our media requests over almost an entire year, he nevertheless has managed to find time to make public addresses for the cash-and-access crowd. Of course, he is just doing the job that Commissioner Hahn and his predecessors have ordered.

For example, on December 14, 2015, Orav spoke at a Skopje event for the 2015 Jean Monnet Prize for journalism. Four days later, he spoke at an event for the “further development and financial sustainability of the civil society,” according to a press release. This was to inaugurate the next generation of multi-million euro grants for Western parallel networks in Macedonia.

Then, on April 7, 2016, Orav addressed the follow-up of the Speak Up conference. At the event, “recently started EU-funded projects supporting freedom of expression and freedom of media” would, according to a press release, “be officially promoted.” Then, on 5 May, Orav addressed the “official launch of EU-funded project ‘Network of journalists for press freedom.’” Most recently, on May 27, Orav spoke at the “EU Investigative Journalism Award”, an activity launched by the Enlargement Commission.

This final award has a clear policy objective, as a press release revealed. “The EU award regional scheme for investigative journalism in Western Balkans and Turkey is established by the European Commission, DG Enlargement, following the EU Enlargement strategy which recognizes strong need for ensuring freedom of expression in the media, and for support to investigative journalism to monitor the reform processes and to keep the historical momentum toward the EU accession. The EU award for investigative journalism was established in 2015 and will be given each year in the period of three years.”

The political preferences of the EU cash-and-access schemes for media were clearly attested in another contemporaneous press release. It announced that from January 2016 through January 2019, the generally pro-SDSM Association of Journalists (ZNM) “will implement the project ‘Network of Journalists for press freedom’ funded by the European Union with almost 200,000 EUR. The objective of the project is to foster the development of a favorable environment for the rights of journalists and to improve the reporting of journalists according to professional and ethical standards. The Association of Journalists also participates in one of the EU-regional projects “Western Balkan`s Regional Platform for advocating media freedom and journalists` safety“, budgeted with almost 1.2 million EUR.”

According to the EU, “the objective of this action is the establishment of a regional Early Warning and Prevention System Network as a mechanism of joint advocacy for implementation of EU standards in the field of media and prevention of malpractice, through capacity building, networking and exchange of knowledge between six regional journalists’ associations.” All in all, EU support for so-called “media reforms” equals 2.7 million EUR.

ZNM’s domestic rival, the Macedonian Association of Journalists (MAN) is viewed negatively by the EU, as being ‘pro-VMRO.’ The purpose of the funding and preferences is – as clearly stated – network development for ideologies in line with the EU’s regional agenda- ideologies which however are not shared by large majorities of local populations. Therefore, while EU largesse has made a small group of people very rich, it has failed to change the worldviews of the affected countries.

To mark the occasion on 27 May, an official Commission press release provided the following uproarious comment from Hahn himself: “the work of independent media is crucial for good governance and a properly functioning democracy. The EU awards for investigative journalism reflect the priority we give to freedom of expression and media in the enlargement process.”

A Cabinet Engagement

Given Aivo Orav’s incredible disappearing act, we decided to directly contact the Hahn Cabinet’s communications people, on 5 May 2016. After some discussions, we received written answers on 20 May, which were indeed informative and will be noted later in this series. However, on the same day we replied that key questions had not been clarified. After some back-and-forth, we were reminded that “only the spokespersons are entitled to give “on the record” statements on behalf of the Commission.”

Thus on 3 June we contacted Maja Kocijančič, the Cabinet’s spokeswoman, and Commissioner Hahn himself, once again extending the invitation to discuss the issues personally with Orav. She replied, “send us your questions and we will do our best to get the replaces [sic] to you ASAP.” We therefore sent what was described as a ‘first round’ of questions on 6 June, but received no reply. On 11 June, we informed the two that they had still two days to come up with some responses before publication. Thus after waiting for eight days without a reply, we have arrived at today’s (long-delayed) initial publication.

Critics of the EU often note its bloated bureaucracy in the context of wasted money. But this structure also plays a critical role as a self-defensive mechanisms. Commissions hire so many random ‘communications experts’ in part to shield the Commissioner to the greatest extent possible from having to engage with the public. In the end, 28 unelected civil servants can enjoy being treated as heads of state (and tend to regard themselves thus), despite having no such rank or function.

A Curious Silence

It would be hard to believe that Johannes Hahn was not made aware of our request for more information about the EU role in Macedonia’s crisis last summer. In the improbable case that he was somehow not informed then, there is no question that he was informed in early May 2016, as we wrote him directly.

Fortunately, throughout the crisis has been able to speak with many other people, including some who have been at the very heart of the EU’s engagement, as this series will show. So in the end, the reticence of the EU Delegation and Commission to speak has been self-defeating. It only further cements their legacy as failed institutions in the Macedonian crisis.

Unanswered Questions Regarding Media Requests to the EU

The failure of Kocijančič and Hahn to answer, for eight days now, specific follow-up questions indicates that our research has hit a nerve in the EU apparatus. Perhaps some of the relevant themes will be reconsidered later on this series, whether or not they have received official clarification. As for the current article, the most significant (and probably related) unanswered questions left regard the EU’s lack of cooperation since July 2015.

For example, when presented with the representative communications events in the above-stated timeline, Kocijančič did not respond when asked whether the Commission had ordered Orav not to speak with us during the short but vital pause between 15-20 July 2015, or why at that time we were told Orav would no longer be giving interviews, when he quite clearly was very active in the following period. Similarly, there was no response when we asked whether Orav had been ordered to avoid meetings this May, despite the written notification we received from a spokesman that attested “we are doing our best to get to him,” and that his secretary had been instructed to reply to us directly.

This is important not as some point of pride, but for historical accuracy: in order to correctly analyze all of the granularities of the crisis, it would be useful to know whether the Commission has chosen as a policy, or Orav as an individual, to meet or not meet specific analysts.

Again for the sake of historical accuracy, it would be useful to know to what extent Hahn and Orav have been pressured (other than in the media and public sphere) during the crisis, as this could conceivably have affected their decision making- and thus the trajectory of the whole crisis.

The EU’s Expert Report (the Priebe Report, which we will discuss in detail tomorrow) noted that foreign diplomats had been wiretapped in Macedonia. There has been intense speculation and media coverage since the very beginning of 2015 that some diplomats have been blackmailed by political and intelligence structures. Maja Kocijančič did not respond, however, when we asked whether Commissioner Hahn had ever been threatened by political actors during the crisis.

Considering that there are some indicators of subterranean manipulations that would indicate intimidation of diplomats, we may return to this theme at another time as The Great Unraveling continues.

Mistrust and Different Priorities Vex EU-Macedonian Security Cooperation editor’s note: while the migrant crisis has been widely covered, no one has provided a comparative analysis of the different prioritizations of security issues by the EU and Macedonia- or the reasons for this. This comprehensive overview not only does this, but also contains two appendices, with new and unique official relevant data from the Macedonian Ministry of Defence (regarding expenses and damages suffered due to migration), and the EU Delegation in Skopje (regarding present and future EU support for Macedonia in the migration issue).

By Chris Deliso

Eidomeni Camp: Closure as Incitement to Unconventional Methods

Yesterday’s closure of the Greek-Macedonian border camp of Eidomeni eases a siege situation that had developed for months, as over 13,000 migrants guided by activists tried to assail the border, significantly challenging both Greek and Macedonian security forces. But even with this specific closure, the reality is that almost 30,000 migrants remain in Northern Greece for the medium-term.

Macedonian soldiers scan the horizon at the Greek border (MOD photo)

Intelligence suggests that they will remain (or try to independently escape) throughout the tourist season, with further moves likely in September. If, as we warned in a May 15th analysis, Macedonia is forced to make further troop reductions, this could leave 150 soldiers or less to man a long and difficult border where armed migrant smugglers are still active on a daily basis. People forget (or simply don’t know) that the current border replicates the WWI front lines, and the deadlock between opposing forces there lasted for years with only slight alterations. S, just because a certain battle is now over hardly means that the war has been won. Certainly, no one involved feels that they have achieved their optimal goals.

The relocation of migrants to government-authorized camps will however, lull the EU into a false sense of security, minimizing its security prioritization on both sides of the border. expects that this will prove a dangerous miscalculation, as a second wave of migrants (either during or after the summer) is bound to arrive, while traffickers will continue to operate, leading to bottlenecks further up the route as is currently the case at the Serbian-Hungarian border.

A Call to Action

Both migrants and anarchists view the closure as merely a temporary setback, and it is already giving them motivation as they see it as not only a logistical, but also an ideological challenge: indeed, the activist-related German Indymedia site on May 26 defined Eidomeni as “a symbol of the struggle for freedom of movement on the borders of Europe,” and specified May 30-June 5 as a period of “decentralized and creative actions.”

The activists describe this as “a call for international solidarity and outrage under the slogan #overthefortress.” Such rhetoric has defined the entire migrant-crisis experience. The Eidomeni camp provided valuable experience for what we predicted in December 2015 as the convergence of migrant, activist and anarchist cooperation. This has since been confirmed in both information warfare and communications (social media) spontaneous organization, as well as more clever and militarized techniques of border invasion.

The EU and Macedonia: a Legacy of Mistrust

While both parties are cooperating, significant mutual mistrust exists between Macedonian authorities and the European Union on security matters. This is due to both general differences of mentality and specific contentious experiences. Although subtle, this simmering mistrust may have negative consequences in the case of a renewed migrant surge this summer.

Soldiers guard a dangerous river, where they rescued 4 migrants in March (MOD photo)

Soldiers guard a river, where they rescued 4 migrants in March (MOD photo)

Skopje and Brussels clearly have fundamental differences regarding the prioritization of national security, compared to other issues. This would be bad enough at any time, but is especially problematic now, as Macedonia remains the guardian of Europe’s external borders. While the Balkan Route is closed, hundreds continue to try and infiltrate the border daily.

The differences in priority perception represent not only cultural and national differences, but also ideological ones. And they have been exacerbated by a legacy of mistrust generated over the past years. Both sides feel that their positions have been misunderstood or manipulated, which has led to further behind-the-scenes infighting. Further, individual EU member states have wildly opposing views on security and migration, meaning that the EU Delegation can hardly present a unified stance when dealing with the Macedonians.

The Basic Ideological Difference: Prioritization of Security

Macedonia is located in an occasionally turbulent region and has long experience with security threats, ranging from organized crime to terrorist attacks. It suffered a near-civil war just 15 years ago, and its neighbors are hardly always friendly. Macedonians thus tend to see national security as preliminary to everything else.

This sentiment was literally expressed in an April 11 Youtube video went viral of a Macedonian soldier saying ‘I am ready to die for my country’ while being stoned by Eidomeni’s militarized migrants on the Greek side of the border fence.

EU envoys, on the other hand, tend to come from wealthier, more placid countries that have been at peace for decades. They are not psychologically burdened by having to live through constant, intense existential political and national crises every day for the past 25 years. They are thus less inclined to view national security as the core issue. This is not just hypothetical, as we have confirmed the psychology of many dozens of diplomatic cases over a long period.

Recently, a senior official at the EU Delegation in Skopje indirectly confirmed this attitude again for, implying that Macedonia’s focus on security is sometimes seen as covering for a perceived lack of will on “political and rule of law reform.” An EU member state ambassador in the country was even blunter: “[the Macedonians] want to focus on the migrant crisis, so they can keep ignoring their political responsibilities to Przino [Agreement implementation].”

The cumulative analysis gained from long interaction with both sides reveals that the EU (and some other Western states, such as the US) does not regard the migrant crisis as a serious issue, as they believe the southern border with Greece will remain closed permanently. Especially now with the closure of Eidomeni, they expect the problem to disappear, and that Macedonia will need less support. But as we reported last time, this is not a given. The EU official cited above believes that Turkey “will not send more [migrant waves] because they know their strategic interest is with the EU.”

Soldiers maneuver through Macedonia’s intricate border fence system (MOD photo)

It is unclear how pervasive this line of thinking is within the EU at large, but the fact that the Skopje EU Delegation seems to believe it is very concerning- and especially so for the Macedonian security forces, which face budgetary constrictions and extensive materiel damage (see Appendix 1). The promised EU aid (cited in Appendix II) is still in tender phase and, given the glacial pace, of EU bureaucracy, cannot be expected to arrive soon.

Our official request for further clarification on this matter went unanswered by the Delegation.

Attitude Problems: Perceived EU Indifference or Lack of Support for Counter-terrorism Efforts

Following from the ideological difference in threat perception, the EU and Macedonia also have different views of actual security events. This also feeds strong mistrust. This was most dramatically (but not most recently) seen with the EU’s perceived lack of support for the Macedonian police’s counterterrorism operation in Kumanovo last May.

Reactions from the EU and European diplomats ranged from cautious expressions of concern to outright dismay that the terrorists had not succeeded. These reactions reinforced long-standing local suspicions of EU motives. Most ambassadors were missing in action during President Gjorge Ivanov’s recent posthumous awarding of medals of honor for the eight policemen killed in Kumanovo. As has been officially stated since that action, EU allies failed to respond to Macedonian requests for intelligence-sharing during the spring, when a potential terrorist threat had been identified. This failure to cooperate will not be forgotten anytime soon. A recent report in local media that police have prevented yet another terrorist incursion in the Lipkovo area has only increased the distrust in EU and general Western ‘allies.’

Operative Restrictions: Macedonia as a ‘Third Country’

Being a mere candidate country, Macedonia is considered a ‘third country’ by the EU. This designation negatively affects security cooperation capabilities, as is similarly the case with other countries equally burdened by the migrant crisis such as Serbia and Turkey.

Macedonia is thus prevented from contributing migrant data to EURODAC, the EU’s fingerprint database for asylum seekers. Although liberal lawmakers in the EU consistently try to weaken its scope, EURODAC can be used under strict conditions by law enforcement to track criminals and terrorists.

Considering the gravity of the situation with the migration crisis, and the fact that several of the Paris and Brussels attackers transited the Balkan corridor, one would think the EU would make an exception now. Macedonian security officials, however, were rebuffed when offering to share data on over 500,000 registered migrants since last summer.

This was a particularly serious loss for the EU’s internal security, since Greece had not registered many of these people at all. As Germany and other EU countries have admitted, there are hundreds of thousands of migrants roaming Europe with no known identities, thanks to Angela Merkel’s poorly thought-out open-door policy of 2015. This will manifest in terrorist attacks, increased organized crime, and underground intelligence network development in coming years.

The fact of being a ‘third country’ also means that Macedonia must make official requests for assistance via the local EU Delegation, which must then interface with Brussels. Several cases exist that indicate mistrust in the reliability of this process, as when the Delegation failed to pass on an early official request for assistance from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior. (We will explore that subject another time in more detail). The end result has been frustration, lies, deception and anger. In general, it is clear that Macedonia and the EU have not enjoyed a happy relationship in migration assistance coordination during the past year.

On the other hand, the EU Delegation official cited above does inform us that the EU is paying the costs for border police assistance from EU states which have bilateral agreements with Macedonia for border protection. Support for Macedonia has only come from individual states, as with the May 6 visit of Hungarian General Tibor Benko to the border. Hungary, along with Slovakia, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic, has been a strong supporter of Macedonia’s defensive efforts. It will be worth noting whether other factors (like the election of a liberal Austrian president) will change any of these relationships.

Misunderstandings over Money and the Future Capacities and Role of Germany

On the other hand, the unrequested appointment of a German envoy for solving Macedonia’s political crisis means that Berlin will become heavily involved in domestic affairs. We expect that the behavior of this special envoy will potentially cause a backlash against German interests at home and abroad.

The German government is already both increasingly antagonistic towards the Macedonian leadership, and increasingly incompetent in its own security management capacities, since the April 27 firing of BND chief Gerhard Schindler. Intelligence officials from around the region who were consulted unanimously consider this a “disaster,” as Schindler was a competent and well-respected “man of action.” The decision to replace him with a technocrat leaves much room for poor decision-making with long-term ramifications.

The Merkel cabinet has been furious with Macedonia for a long time already. It has reacted both directly, and instrumentalized the Enlargement Commission of Johannes Hahn for making further attacks. Germany controls the EU through bureaucracy; according to diplomatic sources, the key figure in the Merkel cabinet’s anti-Macedonian policy is Hahn’s chief of cabinet, Michael Karnitschnig. This Austrian technocrat served previously under Barroso, was once seconded to a German MFA position, and began his EU enlargement career as desk officer for Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, from 2001-2004. He has been described by interlocutors as the “toughest” member of the cabinet in negotiations with Macedonia.

In an early March Bild interview, President Ivanov criticized the EU’s perceived failure to cooperate on migration security. Interestingly, the strong reaction from Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert focused mostly on the president’s claim that the state had received no financial support from the EU for migration security. On March 13, Ivanov responded to an official statement from the Enlargement Commission by asking rhetorically that if Macedonia had indeed been given 52 million euros, there was no record of it in the state budget. Dnevnik tried to get an official reply from the Enlargement Commission, but it was somewhat vague.

The misunderstanding derives from differences between Macedonian law and EU procedure. The Law on Crisis Situations (in place since August) foresees funding from ministries, state institutions and local government. Therefore, any EU money should go to these bodies. However, the EU works differently, and has contracted the International Organization for Migration; it gives money to this group and other international organizations like UNHCR. Until now, at least, these donations have been much more for humanitarian aid than security. But with the Balkan corridor now closed, and now Eidomeni too, there is less need for humanitarian aid, since there are no migrants (except those who are caught and returned to Greece). Security cooperation is rather of primary importance.

EU officials seem genuinely confused by this legal distinction. “Why should it matter whether the money goes in the state budget?” said the senior EU Delegation member quoted above. “We are donating to support the border management.” Still, it appears that the EU has been influenced, however slowly, by the president’s views, as some of the donations specified in Appendix 2 below are more security-oriented. However, they are arriving far later than they should have, due to the unreported blockage of requests we alluded to above.

In general, questions of financial support for Macedonian migration capacities have long been controversial: last year, revealed a secret plan that the UNHCR was considering, to turn the country into a migrant dump for up to 30,000 persons in camps. Now that would be the kind of thing Brussels would love to subsidize- after all, the EU could keep sweeping a problem it could not solve under the Balkan rug. But Macedonia refused to take the bait, angering Brussels and Berlin. “Basically, the internationals thought the Macedonians were stupid or desperate enough to take the support,” says one British development official aware of the situation. “So when they kept refusing, they became more and more angry, though since it wasn’t ever officially an offer they couldn’t factually blame [the Macedonians].”

It is necessary to remember this context to understand just how deep and long-lasting the antagonisms are.

The European Reaction: Attack from Afar…

An aggressive, obstinate and dysfunctional Germany, combined with an indifferent EU, does not augur well for Macedonian national security. The enormous external pressure over the political crisis continues to mount just as the controversial migration deal between Turkey and the EU may be unraveling. Even the most hopeful of prognoses indicates a long and tense period of subterfuge, recrimination and asymmetric war in the months ahead. And that is only between allies- never mind open enemies.

Events that we will discuss at a later date have led to a situation in which the EU, under German leadership, is using migration to exert political pressure, and even violent destabilization, in Macedonia. Most of this does not reach the level of surface politics, but one case did- the release on 11 May of a Council of Europe report harshly critical of Macedonian border security methods. The rhetoric in it directly expressed the Greek (and now radicalized German) agenda, but is partly informed by tremendous anger in Brussels over an event that did not go as planned.

Interestingly, the report was the product of a 4 March border visit by the Council’s special representative on migration and refugees, Tomas Bocek. That was the same time the EU had just announced a 700mn euro emergency fund for Greek migration efforts, and a few days before President Ivanov’s comments for Bild.

In the report, Bocek said he was concerned about “allegations of maltreatment by police stationed along the Macedonian border,” and even offered to train border guards, to ensure that “the border with Greece be watched over in accordance with the country’s obligations as well as in relation to human rights.” This angered Macedonian officials, who have constantly reinforced their caution and care in dealing with even violent migrants. The fact that all police actions are filmed also means that Mr Bocek will have an interesting time proving his opinions.

The year’s second major attack on the border from Eidomeni occurred on April 10. The next day Greece condemned Macedonian use of tear gas. Greece’s opportunistic prime minister would highlight the apparent moral difference between his migrant policy and Macedonia’s, when five days later he made his ‘Tsipras Dove of Peace’ photo-op with the Pope on Lesvos. At the same time, aggressively fundraising NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontiers seized on the Eidomeni incident; yet they did not question the paramilitary tactics of migrants or the morality of using children as human shields before the fence (and waiting cameras).

As in the March attack, the migrant surge was caused by mysteriously placed disinformation that the border was opening. Referring to the assault, AFP reported that “Macedonia has used tear gas and stun grenades to push back migrants at the Greek border to the south and has been accused by NGOs of using rubber bullets, though the government denies this charge.”

Dedicated readers of should keep these dates, events and allegations in mind, as they are much more important than they might at first seem.

…While Looking Interested on the Ground

To balance the unpleasantness of rebuke from a distance (the COE report), the EU sought to look more positive on the ground. Thus after the report, on May 12, Head of Delegation Aivo Orav and several EU ambassadors visited the Transit Centre for Migrants in Gevgelija- among “several EU-funded projects, in order to get closely acquainted with part of the assistance that the European Union is providing to the country through the IPA funds,” according to a press release.

This kind of PR stunt actually had little to do with the border or migration, however. Rather, it reflected two things: one, concern over the EU’s tanking popularity in the country, due to its constant political interference and personnel behavior; and two, a demonstration of the Delegation’s own long-simmering anger. “The government has taken credit for some infrastructure projects that actually got EU funds,” one international aid consultant in Skopje tells “This trip was the EU’s way of making a statement about money, and migration border issues only in context of the general aid package.”

And that was it. While the gathered ambassadors made no statement of support for the army and police, and certainly no criticism of chronic non-cooperation from the EU country on the other side of the border, one ambassador did think it would be quite clever to bring up the political crisis.

Not that there was anything more relevant to talk about, all things considered. On 17 May, Alfa TV cited police sources who indicate organized human trafficking from Greece has risen since the closure of the Balkan Route. All told, “from last November through today, the Republic of Macedonia has blocked the entrance of 31,398 illegal migrants from entering our territory.”

Meanwhile in Istanbul, Angela Merkel was questioning “the independence of Turkey’s judiciary and suggested a tentative July 1 target date for Turks to travel visa-free to the European Union probably won’t be met, saying the government has to meet the EU’s terms in the refugee accord first.” In the chancellor’s words, “open questions remain.” The same goes for the future of migration and security cooperation in the Balkans.

Appendix 1: Official Data from Macedonian MOD on Defensive Measures, Costs and Damages Due to the Migration Crisis (reproduced as received electronically by on May 16, 2016)

Starting last year, the Republic of Macedonia and other countries along the so-called “Balkan Route” were and still are under increased pressure from migrants whose aim is to transit towards the countries in the European Union. The Ministry of Defence in coordination and support of other institutions in the Republic of Macedonia is taking measures to address this situation and maintain peace and security, particularly on the southern border with Greece, i.e. the “Schengen area”.

The Government of the Republic of Macedonia, based on the conclusions of the Crisis Management Center dated 19.8.2016, adopted a decision declaring the crisis situation on the southern and northern borders. Based on this decision the President of the Republic of Macedonia and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Gjorge Ivanov, issued an order on 21.08.2015 to engage the Army of the Republic of Macedonia (ARM) in enhancing and providing continuous security of the southern and northern borders in support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Border Police. After the expiration of the 30 days from the declaration of a crisis situation, on the proposal of the Government, the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia extended the crisis situation first to 15 June 2016, followed by an amendment to extend the crisis situation by the end of this year.

In order to prevent illegal crossing of the state border and direct people to the registration checkpoints, so as to avoid oversights due to inadequate registration that might lead to adverse security consequences, from the very beginning of engagement, the members of the ARM take preventive measures and necessary technical and tactical measures such as surveillance, reconnaissance and patrolling in the area of responsibility of the border.

In the past period, the direct costs for securing the border (accommodation, food, fuel, etc.) have reached more than 7 million [euros].

In terms of monthly expenses, we are not able at present to deliver you a detailed response on the grounds that the monthly costs are not fixed, and they mostly depend on the number of ARM members engaged on the southern border.

Regarding the second and third questions, we would like to point out that in performing tasks for preventing illegal crossings, thus far, the ARM has suffered damage to the vehicles and materiel, and injuries to its personnel, especially in the attempts of mass and violent crossing of the state border, such as the most characteristic developments and events of 28.11.2015 and 11.04.2016.

So far the Army has suffered the following damages:

  1. a) Damaged vehicles as a result of direct attacks by illegal migrants:

– Several Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) “Hermelin” (broken headlights, mirrors, cracked windows) and motor vehicles “Humvee” (broken headlights, mirrors, windows).

– Extensive damage to protective equipment from the direct attacks by migrants (helmets, shields).

  1. b) Damage and defects of motor vehicles and engineering machines from the everyday performance of the given tasks:

– Several APCs and several all-terrain vehicles (Iveco, Humvee) and engineering machines and vehicles.

The financial implications for the re-commissioning of damaged materiel and equipment amount to tens of thousands of Euros to be allocated from the budget of the MOD and the ARM.

So far in exercising their duties for preventing illegal crossings in the direct attacks by migrants on the above dates (mostly by throwing stones) 12 members of the ARM were injured (limbs injuries, fractures and scratches, as well as head injuries).

Dozens of ARM members have suffered injuries while providing regular state border security, patrols and traps, fortunately the injuries were not serious and required prolonged absence from the unit.

Despite this, the ARM members continue to act in the most correct and humane manner towards to migrants, which can be seen in the performance of the activities and construction of facilities by the ARM members, such as: ballast roads to the shelter, ballast platform at the camp, water channel, constructed protective fences around the detention camps, mounted tents and containers for accommodation of the migrants, cleaning of the riverbed near the reception center in Gevgelija. Moreover, the humane treatment was best demonstrated with the rescue of four migrants from the floodwaters of Suva Reka on 14.03.2016.


Appendix 2: Official Data from European Union Delegation in Skopje (reproduced as received electronically by on May 16, 2016)

Special Measure 1

This measure aims to support the relevant government offices on national and local level. The assistance is supposed to cover not only short-term needs but also a long-term nature needs such as terrain vehicles for border police, waste management vehicles for the municipalities, ambulance vehicles, and specialized medical equipment for the hospital in Gevgelija.

Disbursed – €600,000

In March 2016, the EU disbursed 0,6 MEUR to support in particular Crisis Management Center (2 minivans, that can serve also for transportation of vulnerable migrants and government staff), Gevgelija General hospital (with 2 ambulance vehicles for health care provision), waste management public companies in the municipalities of Kumanovo and Gevgelija (with 2 buldozers for waste management and garbage collection).

In the pipeline:

The EU is to shortly procure and deliver in 2016 terrain vehicles for the amount of 2,4 MEUR for the Border Police, Crisis Management Centre,  Gevgelija General hospital and waste management public companies in the municipalities of Kumanovo and Gevgelija. This support should help central government and local authorities to deal with migration flow and to mitigate its negative impact on the local population.

Although not yet fully implemented, Special Measure I is even more relevant nowadays.

Terrain vehicles for MoI

Tender dossier for terrain vehicles is to be re-launched mid-May 2016 – negotiated procedure

It is linked with the increased irregular migration including smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings.

Namely, the terrain vehicles will be used:

  • For rapid mobilization of the border police in managing the actual situations related to the migrant crisis.
  • For intensive border surveillance of the state border by the border police, greater mobility on the field for detection of criminal structures or individuals trying to manipulate and misuse migrants.
  • Detecting groups of migrants trying to pass the state border via the regular movement routes, as well outside them.
  • Transport of migrants who have been found in weak condition on the field and have need of medical assistance on the spot to specific centres competent for providing medical assistance (health institutions, Red Cross centres).

Medical Equipment:

Tender dossier for medical equipment is to be re-launched end of May 2016

General Hospital Gevgelija continued to provide on time medical care to the migrants, established   separate “examination foster clinic with daily care”, equipped with basic furniture, medical equipment and disposables. The migrant part and daily clinic,   so the migrants wouldn’t have to wait for the health services with other patients and could receive the health services promptly with separate entrance, is separate from the outside. The reconstruction of the roof of the hospital is completed as well as specific medical equipment delivered (including 2 equipped ambulance vehicles) within the frame of our CBC project, and partial reconstruction provided by the Council of Europe Bank is to be completed very soon. Once the reconstruction is completed our procurement of the complex medical equipment will be completed, too.

Waste management vehicles

Tender dossier for waste management vehicle sent to the potential bidders – negotiated procedure, deadline for submission of the offers is 25 May 2016

Support to municipalities of Gevgelija and Kumanovo with new waste management vehicles will enhance their capacity to extend municipal waste and water collection in transit centres with stranded migrants and mitigate impact of migrants’ crisis to the local context and prevent negative sentiment vis-a-vis migrants.

Special measure II

 EU disbursed €5,900,625.00

This Measure aims to ensure effective management of the south border, to prevent smuggling and trafficking of migrants and to ensure an efficient identification and registration process of migrants at the border.

It is very much linked with the SM 1 as well as with the Governmental decision from late November 2015, to request from several EU Member States to deploy border guards (“guest officers”) to the country’s southern border with Greece and to strengthen the country’s border management activities with respect to border surveillance and registration activities.

Nevertheless, the management of a large and complex multinational team in a sensitive political context currently is a major challenge.

Therefore, after the second scoping mission, in February this year a contract was signed with IOM in amount of 9 million. With these funds:

  • the EU will cover the government’s running costs (food, accommodation, fuel) of “guest officers” (from several Member States) and, where justified, for the domestic border police officers;
  • then will provide training and advise to the Ministry of Interior; and
  • will buy specialized border surveillance equipment for the border police.


Special Measure III

Following several meetings held with relevant institutions Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy concept note was submitted by the Government.

General comment to the CN: More comprehensive and up to date justification for the activities proposed under the action document is needed. The analysis of the situation and the potential scenario are out of date and not really reflecting on the current state of play and what the situation could be like in the coming months.

The EUD in Serbia is nominated to lead the negotiation process with IOM responsible, while the HQ will be the Contracting Authority.


Migration Intelligence Indicates Potential Security Breakdown in Macedonia and Mediterranean

By Chris Deliso

Fast-moving current events, including multinational network destabilization across the Balkans, protests throughout Europe and uncertainty over the future course of Britain and Turkey are creating a situation in which a single breakdown at one point of pressure could have serious ramifications for European security. A small but critical pressure point in all of this is the Republic of Macedonia.

The Impending Macedonian Troop Drawdown

On May 13, Alfa TV reported that Macedonia will have to withdraw 50 percent of its troops from the Greek border. As has chronicled in detail, a crisis situation was declared in August, and Macedonia took institutional measures to protect the safety of its citizens. And with the closure of the Balkan Route earlier this spring, Macedonian security forces have been protecting the country – and Europe – from mass illegal migration.

Since March 8 alone, the army and police have sent back 11,700 illegal migrants to Greece, which cannot guard its own border despite generous EU financial, technical, and personnel assistance, and vastly larger capacities. Macedonia, on the other hand, has received almost no assistance from Brussels, and its offers to contribute the kind of intelligence that could prevent terrorist attacks further north have been rejected on bureaucratic grounds.

Macedonia border protection includes cooperation from police from other EU and Balkan states, based on bilateral agreements; they have an EU mandate to safeguard Europe’s external borders, since EU-member Greece has failed to do so itself. But now the army will be forced to “redefine” its mission, Alfa TV reports, due to low funds, equipment damage and injuries in a highly dangerous area. The EU’s failure to provide meaningful support has long been noted locally. This perception is not exactly increasing Macedonian morale to keep serving as guard dog of Europe.

Balkan Route Closed, but Pressures Remain

At its peak last year, the ARM (Army of the Republic of Macedonia) deployed over 800 soldiers on active border duty. Since March, when the Balkan Route was declared closed, that number fell to 400. Despite clear announcements by EC Presidential Donald Tusk that the route was closed, the ‘wild’ Eidomeni camp swelled to over 12,000 persons.

Encouraged by European anarchists, activists and possibly intelligence services, many of these migrants have refused to go to Greek state-provided shelters and chosen to remain in squalid conditions nearest to the border. On several occasions they have attacked Macedonian security forces in organized attempts to breach the border.

The activists are keeping up the pressure on social media and on the ground. For example, the Moving Europe group published a report on May 11, to dissuade migrants from going to the new Lagkadikia camp. The report quotes 20 Syrian refugees who were relocated there from Eidomeni. It accuses the Greek state and UNHCR of “lying” to the refugees, who claim conditions were better in Eidomeni. The general purpose of such reports is to discredit the official Greek and UN system, and further foment unrest among the migrants.

European leaders seem blissfully unaware that there is a major difference between a refugee in quick transit and an angry mob kept immobile for months in poor physical conditions, and constantly fed propaganda from radical leftists seeking to fulfill their own ideological dreams through other people’s misery.

Indeed, one day after the April 10 organized attack on the border by migrants and activists at Eidomeni, Greek minister for Citizen Protection Nikos Toskas made a revealing, if politically incorrect statement for media. “Referring to the hundreds of young men tearing down border fences, throwing rocks at police and screaming ‘Allahu Akhbar’, Mr. Toskas said: “what you see today, are the jihadists of tomorrow.”

Of course, different people stress different views. Marianna Karakoulaki, a Greek journalist who has reported from the Eidomeni camp often in recent months, tells that “activist, leftist and anarchist groups are indeed present in Eidomeni but their sole purpose there is to provide help and solidarity to the people who have been stuck for months in the area. They of course still have their ideology and they still focus on other causes, which is part of their political activism. But this is the case for every social movement worldwide; there is not only one cause, but every cause can be influenced and interact with another.”

Drawing another distinction, Karakoulaki adds that “activists and volunteers do interact with refugees but they are in no way connected to smugglers. Those in Eidomeni in fact are not supporting smuggling and try to convince people to wait ‘til their asylum claim is processed. Activists and volunteers are integral to the well-being of refugees in the Eidomeni as the large numbers of volunteers means that the officials are not able to handle everyone effectively.”

While some aspects of this perspective are open to debate, the claim that traffickers and activists are not working together is an interesting one. But for the Macedonian security forces under constant attack from the other side of the border, the distinction hardly matters in an operative sense.

Statistics and Significance

Soon, only 200 soldiers will be left to support Macedonian and allied European police forces. Aside from the current psychological condition of the migrants and goals of the anarchists occupying the border, what are the ramifications of this new reality?

One statistic helps put this development in perspective. On May 9, Alfa TV reported that in one six-hour overnight period alone, police and army intercepted 861 illegal migrants trying to sneak into Macedonia. Some 60 of these migrants were discovered 20 km inside the territory. Thus, a 50 percent troop reduction, to only 200 soldiers, will make it much harder to stop radicalized, well-organized migrant groups.

This will lead to more injuries and damage to defending security forces and, eventually, to a resumption of illegal mass migration as the word spreads among migrant and activist networks that they can, in their own words, “smash the border.”

On May 10, Utrinski Vesnik reported that two local smugglers had been arrested and over 100 migrants freed in three police operations on Sunday and Monday. In the past two weeks, an average of 300 daily illegal border crossing attempts had been made, by mostly Afghans, Pakistanis, Moroccans and other Africans. Of these, over 100 successfully escaped north to Serbia. Traffickers now use increasingly sophisticated methods- and as the police and army resources remain insufficient to fully manage the threat.

Migrant Tactics Shift to Night Transit

Unlike with the high-profile, activist-led mass attacks on the border earlier this spring, migrants who pay up to 800 euros per person to leave Greece are trying to be more subtle. Military and police sources indicate that the ‘overnight route’ is becoming increasingly popular, as migrants assume the darkness improves chances of escaping detection. These efforts were document by Macedonian television crews who recently accompanied the army and police on night patrol.

Migrant Transit Locations in Greece and Secret Routes Used

Greece’s migrant camps have been established strategically along the border, near Lake Dojran, at Eidomeni and elsewhere. This both keeps migrants away from prime tourism destinations, and also intensifies the pressure on Greece’s northern neighbors.

In recent weeks, migrants have been starting from five points inside Greece: Eidomeni camp; the nearby Hotel Hera, from where smugglers organize migrant groups; decrepit buildings run by Thessaloniki-based anarchists, in the area of Evzoni and Polykastro, as well as the latter’s gas station, and the smaller camp in Cherso. This means that large concentrations of migrants currently occupy strategic points on the border with Macedonia. The siege line is almost identical to that of World War I.

To appreciate this scale, note the latest data, reported by To Vima on May 11: it reveals that of the 54,542 identified migrants and refugees in the country, some 29,139 are being kept in Northern Greece, with 14,330 more in the Attica (Athens area) region. Almost 7,000 are being kept in hot spots in the Eastern Aegean islands.

Migrants now are paying smugglers up to 800 euros to enter Macedonia at four illegal entry points: the village of Selemli; the village of Moin (the site of the infamous ‘March for Hope,’ in which three migrants drowned in a river); the Tri Bora outpost (karaula), and the more difficult mountain road to Rozhden.

Costs and Damages

Citing military sources, Alfa TV reported that the military has paid 2.5 mn euros from its own budget over the past nine months- not counting the cost of the extensive border fence, nor the interior ministry’s own costs. It quotes General Mircea Gjorgoski, who attests that “in the past crossing attempts that resulted in violence, 15 ARM personnel were injured, one of them seriously.” Further, “seven combat vehicles and other machinery and equipment” were damaged.

According to General Gjorgoski, the 50-percent troop drawdown is necessary “in order to maintain a high level of combat readiness and performance” in light of these problems and the “extremely difficult logistics” of the undeveloped, wooded and mountainous terrain near the border.

Contextual Ramifications

All Macedonian security forces are currently overstretched due to the migrant threat and the need to deal with carefully-placed nationwide political protests. That is a story for another time, but is very much related to the general security situation and stability of the country. In the case of another major security threat or political upheaval, Macedonia may be forced to abandon border protection altogether- leading to a mass movement of radicalized refugees and their ‘no borders’ anarchist minders heading north. Similar radical movements exist in all other European countries, and can thus supply logistical and anti-police protest support along the breadth of the continent.

More Bad News: French Intelligence Reveals Anticipated Migrant Surge can report that French and other European intelligence services have intercepted recent communications between migrant trafficking outfits in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. Whether or not the EU-Turkey deal holds, traffickers plan several new routes. One is a new ‘short hop’ route for summer from Turkish Thrace (ports on the mainland coast and Gallipoli area) directly past the Evros Delta to Alexandroupoli and the small beach areas beyond it.

This direct mainland access would solve the main problem of migrants who get stuck on the islands. From Greek Thrace, migrants could choose to either head straight north to Bulgaria, or further west and then up through the Pomakohoria villages north of Xanthi into Bulgaria. Or, continuing further, they could enter Bulgaria on numerous small mountain paths or at the main crossings leading to Goce Delchev, or Petritch near Macedonia. And they could of course continue westward through Greece to cross into Macedonia at Eidomeni, or continue even further to the Ionian coast for transit to Albania or boat traffic to Italy.

Although the Greek coast guard and Frontex have long been present in the Evros area – where Greece has fenced off its land border with Turkey for five years – it remains to be seen whether they would be effective against traffickers who may employ various sophisticated methods. And the return to Turkey of any intercepted migrants will depend on the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal.

The EU-Turkey Deal and Migration

A number of present and future scenarios indicate high risks of instability. The first factor is the fate of the Turkey-EU migrant-swap deal. Currently there are serious differences between the two sides. President Erdoğan has refused to change an anti-terrorism law to please the EU, and his dismissal of Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who was reportedly more amenable to Brussels’ demands, is seen as a blow to the process. On May 13, Hurriyet reported that while efforts to cement the deal have “intensified,” the five outstanding reforms sought by the EU are causing difficulties.

The lack of consensus with the European Parliament and the Enlargement Commission led by Johannes Hahn is adding to the confusion. “At this point, the topic is locked at the European Parliament” the newspaper quoted Turkish EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkır as saying. “The solution of this [state] lies at the European Commission.”

Marianna Karakoulaki states for that the EU-Turkey deal “was set to fail from the very beginning. First of all its clauses are not possible. Turkey’s visa requirements will not easily be accepted by EU members.”

Noting the departure of Davutoğlu as another factor, the Greek journalist adds that “from the very beginning it was obvious that Turkey’s sole goal was to achieve its visa requirements and extra funding from the EU, however, even though it managed to achieve the deal it wanted, Turkey’s government doesn’t seem willing to follow its own responsibilities.”

While these obligations include legislative reforms demanded by the EU, Karakoulaki also points out “the very little steps it has taken to tackle smuggling networks. Turkey uses the refugee crisis as leverage for negotiations with the EU; it can break the deal at any given moment because we all know that in this case it’s the EU that needs Turkey and not the other way around. Last but not least, no matter what the deal is, you cannot stop people who are running from conflict – one way or another they will manage to reach safety.”

Further Signs of a Widening Migrant War: Egypt and Libya

As of April 20 – when there was still relative optimism for a compromise – UNHCR revealed that “so far this year 179,552 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea across the Mediterranean and Aegean. At least 761 have died or gone missing attempting the journey.”

This statement was made while recounting the deaths of around 500 migrants who had departed Tobruk, Libya and drowned on an overcrowded ship. The continuing incursions of ISIS into Libya are helping prevent stability there, and offering a great chance for migrant traffickers to continue their trade. The decrease of migrants from Turkey to Greece due to the EU-Turkey deal means that Italy is now the largest recipient of maritime migrants in Europe.

Now, a new British parliamentary report expresses skepticism about the EU’s attempts to restrict illegal Mediterranean crossings (Operation Sophia). According to ABC News on May 13, Committee chairman Christopher Tugendhat said that “a naval mission cannot disrupt the business model of people smuggling, and in this sense it is failing… without support from a stable Libyan government, the operation is unable to gather the intelligence it needs or tackle the smugglers onshore.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s attempts to get political and financial concessions from the EU are, as we had predicted, giving other nations similar ideas. Since Italy has stepped up criticisms of Egyptian democracy and secret services, Egypt has started allowing use of five ports to hit 23 Italian destinations with long-haul migrant ships. This has been reported mostly in the context of tragic accidents in which ships fail to arrive leading to deaths, as on April 18.

On May 13, UNHCR stated that Italy had rescued around 1,000 migrants in fishing boats near Sicily. They had come from Egypt. With its vast population and access to other African nations, Egypt could become an even larger migrant exporter than Turkey.

And ever more migrants are about to come ‘on stream,’ as it were. While EU officials (and some American) tend to believe that solving the Syrian war will solve the migrant crisis, the opinion is incorrect. Kenya, for example, announced on May 11 that it will close Dadaab refugee camp. Set up in 1991, it is the world’s largest refugee camp, with hundreds of thousands of mostly Somali refugees. Kenya claims, however, that it has become a safe haven for Al Shabaab terrorists. When the camp is broken up and people repatriated, we can expect a large number to attempt to reach Europe via other routes, including Somali, Egyptian and Middle Eastern ports.

Finally, it should be noted that motives such as politics, economics and hybrid war may increase the potential for countries like Turkey, Egypt and Libya to use new migrant waves to destabilize the European Union’s soft southern underbelly. Targets would include Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Italy.

There are several quite realistic scenarios we are currently modeling for how the Schengen Zone could be destroyed in this way, with even a new military conflict possible in Cyprus due to diversionary tactics involving migrant assistance. Essentially, if the Turkey-EU deal falls through, all options are again on the table.

Back to Macedonia: Vigilance Required

All things considered, with 200 (and possibly fewer) soldiers left on Europe’s last external border, Macedonia, it may prove premature to say that the Balkan Route is closed- especially with 29,000 migrants currently massed strategically across the border. Should negotiations with Turkey break down or other factors lead to a resumption of mass migration, Macedonia is still the direct route to Central Europe, and as such will always be targeted.

There is another fundamental problem with Greece and migration. Any official numbers, such as those quoted above are essentially bean-counting. Greece has over the years amassed an immigrant population of around one million people. Evidence already suggests that some such ‘permanent migrants’ have taken the opportunity of the migrant crisis to pretend to be fresh-off-the-boat arrivals, looking for a better life further north. Greece, obviously, would like to empty its territory of immigrants, not add more to an already overburdened social welfare system. Thus it does not even matter if further migrant ships arrive. Greece will be able to fill the corridor for years simply with the masses it has accrued over time.

It is not clear that the EU and foreign observers really understand any of these dynamics. But the behavior of the EU and allied institutions in the months ahead will to a large extent determine what kind of Europe will exist by this time next year.

2004-2009 Back Archives