MACEDONIA IN EUROPE Rubric compiler: Asparuh Panov
The case of Macedonia and its relations with the EU
While I’m writing this paper, we are all witnessing an unprecedented achievement in the foreign and security policy priority of one the countries of the region of the western Balkans: Macedonia. Progress in making it an integral part of the European integration processes continues in its full swing. Since the end of sporadic inter-ethnic violence of 2001, the country has grown into a state with the potential of stability and prosperity. The country and the European Union have put tremendous effort into these two noble goals.
Following the death of its former President at a plane crash near Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia was strongly encouraged by the EU leadership to apply for Union membership and it did so in March 2004. What followed was the issuing of the EC Opinion on the application of Macedonia for membership in the EU in December 2005 which recommended awarding a candidate status to the country. The Opinion was the basis for the decision of the European Council in December 2005 to grant the status of candidate to Macedonia. Currently, the eyes are set on the day when the country will start negotiations for EU membership.
This offers the country a real chance to join the EU and gain the Union’s hard-won security and prosperity, something that almost all of the country’s citizens want, regardless of ethnicity.
The timing of the candidate status awarding corresponded to the most reform-oriented period for Macedonia in its post-communist history. International and domestic agreements and arrangements framing the stabilisation and democratisation reform in the country, including the Ohrid Framework Agreement, have brought the new dynamics to the reform environment, which, in turn, has marked, in principle, the birth of a new Macedonia, with a new reform strategy tackling the two most important needs and necessities of the country – stabilisation and democratisation. These are two processes that help us to define the value and importance of the candidate state building.
Awarding the candidate status in December 2005 has brought an end to any possible hard security challenge to the country and an end to the questions about its future existence. Risk coming from organised crime and corruption that might have had state level implications has been avoided and any possible breakdown of law and order in parts of the country’s territories has been alleviated. Its law enforcement institutions, prosecutors’ offices and judiciary have started to honour their commitments in terms of trying corruption and organised crime cases. Professional, managerial and operational support provided by the EU to the law enforcement institutions has enhanced their capacity to deal with such complex risks.
Recent EU initiatives for providing support to the justice and home affairs sectors, including the CARDS programme, technical assistance and twinning projects undertaken within that framework, as well as policing missions, in tandem with the overall European integration agenda, have been positive steps in building and strengthening the stability of the country. Despite the initial perception and acceptance that the EU support provided will be purely of operational character, with its work, the assistance has turned into a critical engine of institutional change in the country.
The most important advantage is that the country has the prospect of Union membership, a fact that has facilitated the stabilisation work in the country. This prospect has increased the Union’s influence in the country and has made it the leading and uniting factor among the ethnicities in the country reducing destabilisation in the country. This in turn has helped the country to be promoted as a European country that has increased prospects for full EU membership. These general developments have also provided an important baseline and framework for restructuring and stabilisation of the country.
What was previously perceived as sources of instability below the surface has been alleviated. New bodies established and existing ones restructured, together with the mechanisms at regional and European level, have provided for “checks and balances” that have been able to sustain momentum for political stability in the country and then to balance strong sources of instability capable of drawing the country into renewed violence.
This gradual shift towards stabilisation has been the reflection of the change in the situation on the ground. We see that the Ohrid peace process initiated by the EU is to a great extent complete. The danger of civil war has become a thing of the past, making it possible for reconstruction, reconciliation and healing the wounds of a conflict that destroyed thousands of homes and caused thousands of refugees and internally displaced people. Destroyed or damaged houses have been rebuilt or reconstructed and around 99 per cent of the refugees and IDPs have returned to their homes.
The signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in August 2001 ceased the hostilities and led to the constitutional and administrative changes in order to meet the grievances of the ethnic Albanian and other minority groups. The Agreement included provisions mainly about devolving more powers to the local jurisdictions, more representation of minority representatives in the state administration, education and use of minority languages in the state and local level institutions and other procedures.
The Ohrid Framework Agreement opened a new era in Macedonia’s transition as it brought a major change in Macedonia’s polity. The Agreement is currently an important framework upon which the country’s progress towards a modern democracy is measured. Reform environment brought with the implementation of the Agreement led to some genuine compromises. Also, the international community, including the EU, became more involved in the country, as it also was one of the signatories of the Agreement.
In this context, it makes it virtually impossible to disentangle the impact of the EU integration processes from the fundamental processes of democratisation that have dominated much of Macedonia’s recent political landscape. Thus, there have been a number of EU democratisation effects on the country since the launch of the Ohrid Framework Agreement with which the EU perspective was offered to the country:
First, there has been a growing role of the wider society in the policy processes of Macedonia, reflected with the heavy deployment of the international community, including the EU, and the rise of NGOs in all fields that have shifted the balance of work from mainly political-party-centred to wider-policy circles;
Second, the decentralisation reform package that has been directly associated with the Ohrid Framework Agreement, but which at the same time is related to the European integration processes, has had cumulative effect in loosening the grip of the capital Skopje in the policy processes and balancing the power of the central and national institutions on the one hand, and the local jurisdictions on the other. In a unitary, over-centralized state like that of Macedonia, the territorial transformation in the balance of political power, resources and relationships represents an important move towards the state building processes.
Third, EU integration prospects have fostered the conditions for enhancing the managerial and operational independence of the public administration, particularly the civil service. Since the EU policy agenda, which requires specialized skills, technocratic knowledge and expertise, was handled well, the recruitment of civil servants, at least in the departments dealing with EU matters, became more transparent and based on more objective criteria, rather than on loyalties or on patron-client system and party patronage.
Fourth, trans-national networks provided with the European integration processes, such as regular meetings between the European Parliament and the Sobranie, between EU party federations and internationals linked to the EU and other relevant organizations, have provided an important channel for socialisation of the political elite of Macedonia. Trans-national linkages are an obvious way in which prospective member states experience the influence that EU processes have on elite mentalities in new democracies. When this influence results from ever closer contacts, there may be systemic implications.
Fifth, recently, we have been witnessing intensive efforts by Macedonia, with the effect of the overall European integration agenda, to foster the regional cooperation, particularly with the countries of the western Balkans, with the aim of enhancing the joint efforts towards common priorities, such as the integration into the EU or NATO. Regional cooperation has been a success in the case of Macedonia that has internalized some of the regional challenges into its domestic polity, which, in turn, has enhanced its capability of dealing with the post-conflict challenges in the country.
Defining Candidate state building
Earlier, two indicators, democratisation and stabilisation attained in the work of the EU in Macedonia, particularly since 2001, when sporadic inter-ethnic violence erupted in the country, offer a good basis for defining the candidate state building process. Thus, candidate state building would mean stabilisation and democratisation of formerly weak states making them able to deliver services and thus able to absorb and implement the European norms and standards.
One aspect that has to be taken into account with regard to candidate state building in the case of Macedonia is the overall progression of the country on the way to EU membership. Relations between the EU and Macedonia have involved a progression through a series of stages:
Active role of the EU in Macedonian affairs through the Ohrid Framework Agreement (2001);
Policy orientation of Macedonia towards EU membership and formalisation of links (Stabilisation and Association Agreement) (2001);
Pre-candidate status consultation procedures (Questionnaire and issuing of EC Opinion on Macedonia’s readiness for EU membership) (2005);
Awarding of the candidate status (2005).
In all these stages Macedonia had to satisfy various requirements mainly framed in the overall EU integration agenda and all of these stages have provided for an important opening of Macedonia to Europeanisation pressures and thus to candidate-state building. However, all of the above-mentioned changes have been dependent on the readiness of Macedonia itself and its actors and institutions, complemented by EU support mechanisms for state building. Thus, it has been the combination of EU conditionality and pressure with the support programs, such as CARDS, on the one hand, and the readiness of the local actors, on the other, that has brought these changes about. When the EU was developing its policy towards the country, Macedonia had the necessary advantages to experience intensively the state building effects. It had the necessary political consensus already there for rapprochement of the country into the EU. And state institutions on their part, despite weaknesses, had some initial capacity to take aboard and implement the EU standards.
The model of pre-accession without negotiations offered to Macedonia through the candidate-state building, previously also applied in the case of Turkey, has been an important learning experience about the transformation of a transitional society, such as the Macedonian one. It has provided an important test for a potential candidate to plan and conduct member-state building through candidacy without the start of negotiations. As such, the model has helped to rectify some very considerable deficiencies in the state building effort.
The EU on its part has succeeded in overcoming obstacles that have stood in its way to pressure for substantial reforms at EU level that would turn the western Balkan states into recipients of EU pre-accession assistance without the start of accession negotiations. As potential candidate states, with the launch of the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) – consisting of five segments, including stabilisation and institution building; cross-border cooperation; regional development; human resources development; and rural development, all five of the western Balkan countries are entitled to the large EU assistance that goes beyond the previous “third party” assistance. It now includes five different segments of assistance, the only difference being that the states with candidate status can receive all segments of the IPA assistance and potential candidates are entitled to only part of it. This difference makes Macedonia eligible for human resources, rural development and regional development segments of the IPA assistance, in addition to the other two (stabilisation and cross-border support) that are offered to all potential candidates. This fact makes the candidate status an important element in the state building process.
What the country faced just prior to the issuing of the EC Opinion in November 2005 and awarding of the candidate status in December 2005 was that all incentives for institutional change were depleted and any failure in that regard would have ended the policy cycle and the ongoing processes of institutional change.
Thus, awarding candidate status has increased the appeal of the state of Macedonia to its citizens. It has become capable of meeting the demands of the citizens, increasing their motivation for change and thus establishing a critical mass that will support undertaken reforms on the road ahead. The new era has reinforced the state identity of the country and thereby curbing the countervailing tendency towards disintegration along ethnic and territorial lines. Also, over the last couple of years, the EU assistance has established new constituencies who are able to absorb its norms and standards.
What does the model of Macedonia offer to other countries of the region? General observations and future prospects
As the western Balkans’ prospects for full EU membership are very recent, and before there was no comparable perspective to their integration into the EU, the EU has appeared as a powerful force in influencing the stabilisation and democratisation in the region.
With the awarding of the candidate status to Macedonia, the EU has caught the attention of the elite and the wider public in becoming the only game in the town, an opportunity that NATO earlier missed to grasp with the delay of invitations to Macedonia. With the candidate status, the EU has forced the country to become more proactive and take ownership and leadership of the reforms. The candidate status has offered a clear framework and levels of quality that the country can use as standards in evaluating its development into a modern democracy able to absorb the EU assistance.
Thus, the way ahead for Macedonia towards the EU is shifting from candidate to negotiator state. And that can be done, if the country is able to take initiative and ownership in absorbing and turning the realities and complexities of the country into an advantage. Thus, there is à pressing need for strengthening the reform portfolio in the country that would make it capable of dealing with its economic and social difficulties. This would provide a basis for promoting structural reforms across the country and at all levels.
One area among the challenges that the country has to deal with before it is ready to become a negotiator is the need of linking the citizens to the state thus increasing their confidence in the state institutions. Despite all the successes on the surface, there are still areas that call for further action in order to the fill this gap of confidence. A major area that has to be targeted is the changing of the structures and culture that favour “loyalties” at all government levels. There is a continuing Balkan tradition of favouring loyalties for economic or political gain. This has proven particularly damaging to the democratic and economic development of the country, where preferring the loyals to the others has lowered quality, has decreased legitimacy and has hindered the ability of the institutions to deliver. In many societal sectors, the ability to get information and to make transactions is very limited. Not only in those low intensity institutions, but also in the large ones, like the police, “postal-address-like” information until recently was considered confidential information.
Another challenging area is the decentralisation agenda that has so far proven to be successful in the early months of its implementation and to have a transformational effect. Through decentralisation the country has been able to overcome short-term policy dilemmas and focus on long-term development. The less time the central government spends in dealing with all the details involved in managing the affairs of the state, the more it has become able to channel its resources locally required for long term sustainable and equitable development of the country.
Another area that calls for further attention is the sustainable management of inter-ethnic relations in the country. One thing is certain: Macedonia will only master the challenge of overcoming potential inter-ethnic tensions in any part of its territory if each ethnic group is given responsibility with commensurate say in the decision-making. It is their involvement in the decision-making that will base their own specific and unique responsibilities on legitimacy. The best tool in this regard is equitable representation of ethnic minorities in the state administration, i.e. in the decision making. Only then the government will achieve the major objective it has set for itself. That was true during the years of democratic consolidation in the western world and it is still true in today’s fragile democracies of the western Balkans, such as in Macedonia.
The efforts and changes undertaken since 2001 in the Macedonian polity, including constitutional and other legal changes, in addressing the issue of inequitable representation of citizens from minority ethnic groups in the areas of public administration, the military, the police and public enterprises, has served to the most direct and obvious political and security interests: political interest in successfully providing legitimacy to the public goods produced by the state institutions; and security interest in stabilising the country through employment policies; This, in fact, remains a key challenge for the country – high level unemployment rates coupled with interethnic tensions.
Despite the fact that current figures of minority representation in the state administration are not yet equitably representing the overall composition of the country’s multiethnic structure, clear commitment of the government in this regard has become à critical ingredient of success as it has given impetus to ethnic reconciliation and democratic consolidation. It has established incentives that have compelled all ethnic communities to make policy choices that will put them on the road to overcoming hostile relations between ethnic minorities and majorities. Giving confidence back to state institutions, rather than to para-structures, has triggered an irreversible process of facilitation of the smooth political transition of the country from a conflict-ridden weak state to a functioning democratic polity.
As Macedonia prepared to celebrate its stabilisation and established safeguards for the successes achieved in democratisation through the Ohrid Framework Agreement, the EU made a historical decision to encourage another shift in the country’s transition that led to an irreversible process of Europeanisation of the country: recognizing the country as a candidate state redirected efforts from stabilisation and democratisation to candidate-state building. With this agility of the EU, a cycle of dependency has been avoided and the risk of being unnecessarily protracted has been reduced. Earlier work has been consolidated as the clearer perspective was offered as a follow up to the country’s transition from stabilisation and democratisation to candidate-state building which prevented any failure in the continuation of the reforms and any possible undermining of all progress achieved until then.