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Macedonia

Capital Skopje
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 389
Mobile Codes 70,71,72,75,76,78
ccTLD .mk
Currency Denar (1EUR = 61.5MKD)
Land Area 25,713 sq km
Population 2.1 million
Language Macedonian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

Macedonia’s EU Accession and Reform Goals: Interview with Deputy Prime Minister Fatmir Besimi

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: after four consecutive postponements of accession negotiations, and after being having realized progress in the key areas required for opening negotiations, Macedonia looked forward to the June European Council, when a decision was expected on granting the country a date to start talks. The European Commission’s Spring Report endorsed its October 2012 positive recommendations, recording progress made in the implementation of EU-related HLAD reforms, in improving good-neighborly relations, and urged for immediate enforcement of the March 1, 2013 political agreement. However, on June 27-28, the Council’s agenda did not include discussions on the progress made by the Republic of Macedonia towards opening EU membership negotiations and, consequently, no date for opening accession talks has been set.

In light of these recent events, Balkanalysis.com contributor Cristian Dimitrescu recently sought some insights from the Macedonian government’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Fatmir Besimi, regarding the latter’s views on the pace of policy formulation and reform implementation, in regards to the on-going High Level Accession Dialog (HLAD) and anticipated decision on EU accession negotiations.

Holder of a PhD from Staffordshire University, Mr Besimi has several years of experience in high-level governmental service in Macedonia, having been minister of economy (December 2004-July 2006 and August 2008-July 2011) and minister of defense (August 2011-February 2013). Before these positions, he had served as vice-governor of the National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia.

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According to Deputy Prime Minister Besimi, “the government is committed to further fulfillment of all necessary obligations regardless of their complexity.”

Cristian Dimitrescu: Aside from the regular cooperation framework set by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the Macedonian government and the European Commission have engaged, since March 2012 in the High Level Accession Dialogue (HLAD). The subsequent assessments talk about the government’s successful engagement and its capacity to deliver on the negotiated commitments. How can we explain this mobilization of resources and capacities that led to such an outcome?

Fatmir Besimi: As you know, the Republic of Macedonia was granted candidate-country status in December 2005 and received the first recommendation by the European Commission to start accession negations in 2009. This recommendation has been subsequently repeated each year to date. So, on one hand we had the confirmation that the country fulfils the criteria, but on the other hand we were not given a date for formal start of the negotiations due to the name dispute; therefore, we needed some kind of mechanism that would ensure sustained implementation of the reforms, but also something that would confirm the European perspective of the country.

We have to admit that the High Level Accession Dialogue fulfilled its purpose as it provided new dynamism to the EU integration process. Even though it was a new and challenging process, the administration had the necessary capacity to respond to the requirements in an effective and efficient manner, considering that we have been constantly strengthening our capacities for negotiations since 2005. Furthermore, the government has demonstrated its firm commitment to this process and delivered results in all areas covered by the Accession Dialogue, as was noted in the Commission’s report. I think that the success was a result of the joint efforts of all institutions in the country and the support provided by the European Commission.

CD: It is sometimes said that Macedonia takes advantage of the Greek veto in order to postpone socially unpopular reforms and decisions. How do you answer to this claim?

FB: I would not agree with such a perception. We are fully aware that many of the EU-related reforms are difficult and some of them may not be popular, but the government is prepared to undertake and implement all the necessary reforms.

On the other hand, we as elected representatives have to ensure that the citizens not be heavily affected by the reforms, which is especially important in a time of global financial crisis. It is always challenging to find the right balance, but I assure you that we are doing our utmost to implement the EU reforms, as doing so is in the interest of the citizens for our better future.

CD: A range of documents recently issued by different EU institutions (e.g., EC Report of April 16. 2013; EP Resolution of May 23, 2013) mention – despite noticeable progress – certain delays in adopting and implementing legislation on independence and impartiality of public administration and the judiciary, fighting corruption and organized crime, electoral procedures and political party financing, media independence, and so on. In your opinion, why does the implementation process in these areas take longer than the EU partners would have wanted or anticipated?

FB: All these areas that you mention are also both important and difficult for reform, but they are also covered by the High Level Accession Dialogue which indicates that the government acknowledges their importance and is prepared to address those issues. It is also a fact that these areas include a wide range of groups with different interests, which are concerned by the reform activities. So, if we want the reforms to succeed it is necessary that we ensure the support of all stakeholders and to achieve that it is needed in order to ensure their involvement, by providing conditions for debates and an exchange of opinions. This requires a lot of time and can sometimes lead to delay in the implementation of the envisaged activities.

On the other hand I would like to underline that significant progress has been achieved especially in these sensitive areas over the last year. For instance in the area of freedom of expression, one of the key issues was decriminalization of defamation and insult, and indeed we have managed to adopt the law on civil liability for defamation and insult through transparent and inclusive process.

Nevertheless, I want to reiterate that the government is committed to further fulfillment of all necessary obligations regardless of their complexity, and is looking forward to overcoming all the challenges along the way, in the interest of ensuring stronger democracy and prosperity for the future of all our citizens.

CD: Do you believe the envisaged cross-party Memorandum of Understanding would really help to overcome at least some of the deficiencies you just mentioned? How do you think such an agreement would effectively concentrate political will around “the country’s strategic objective of EU and Atlantic integration,” and what are the deadlocks to be firstly addressed?

FB: The EU integration of the Republic of Macedonia enjoys the support of the wider public in the country, including all political parties. Moreover, the goal of EU membership as an option for our country has never been questioned by any political subject. The differences are maybe in terms of what are the priority reforms, or the manner in which they are implemented.

Therefore, I believe that the signing of the cross-party Memorandum of Understanding as a formal confirmation of our goal of becoming an EU member state would be important for achieving political consensus on the issues of national interest and maintaining political dialogue, in order to ensure smoother implementation of all necessary reforms. In terms of recent deadlocks, I think that currently it is of key importance that the Inquiry Committee regarding the 24 December events has been established, and now it should act upon its tasks. Moreover, the country should continue with the remaining essential issues and key reforms of the March Agreement in the area of freedom of expression and media, election reforms and so on.

CD: In view of forthcoming EU Council discussions on opening accession negotiations with Macedonia, which of the country’s latest advances do you believe have been overlooked and should be weighted or perceived in a more adequate manner?

FB: Our relations with the European Commission have always been close, cooperative and based on mutual respect. In this regard, we expect that our efforts and progress in the implementation of the reforms be adequately noted and acknowledged in the EC documents.

Moreover, we also accept and seriously take into consideration all comments and recommendations given by the European Commission in regard to the areas which require additional reforms. This kind of correlation has worked extremely well so far and has been very helpful for us to identify needs and to define the appropriate measures for the EU-related activities. I believe that our cooperation with the European Commission will continue in the same manner.