The EU and North Macedonia: No more traumas before accession? | Europe | News and events from across the continent | DW
North Macedonia was officially put on the EU enlargement agenda in 2005; the promissory note that Brussels offered to Skopje on the conditions of good conduct and reforms is now older than the new name of the country. Yet with a track record of constant reforms, Skopje has seen the process slow to a virtual halt, which has not only raised questions about the country’s European future, but has also increased internal pressure and political friction. , helping to strengthen anti-European sentiments. . Speaking to Sarah Kelly of DW in Skopje, North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that “sixteen and a half years of waiting is too much trauma”.
The name change dispute is still brewing
The postponed European aspirations of North Macedonia are also seen by critics inside and outside the bloc as a warning about the untamed power of member states with a veto over lengthy political and institutional processes. .
North Macedonia, which joined NATO in 2020, is still pushing for EU membership after a multi-year process. As the Prime Minister pointed out to Kelly, North Macedonia is a country “entirely surrounded by member countries of the European Union”, but still refused to become a member. Its European aspirations mean that Skopje not only has to meet the Copenhagen criteria which require the completion of institutional reforms to guarantee democratic guarantees and guarantees of the rule of law of the EU in the country, but it has also been forced to respond to the whims of some of its neighbors who, within the EU club, have the capacity to veto its membership.
None showed the convincing power of the EU’s pledge more than the Greek demand on Macedonia of the time to change its name. The name change, which came at a high political cost, came in a referendum in 2018, during Zaev’s first term – but did not end the affair.
At UEFA EURO 2020, Prime Minister Zaev tweeted his best wishes to his country’s team, which he called Macedonia. This was greeted with a reprimand from Athens, who not only complained but put on hold a memorandum of cooperation between the two countries, presumably to make the Macedonian prime minister understand how far Athens would go to keep the name of Macedonia for itself.
Then in 2020, Bulgaria, which had supported Macedonian aspirations, turned to the EU with another demand: the recognition of the Macedonian language as a dialect of Bulgarian. As Bulgarian President Rumen Radev explained: “We cannot say ‘yes’ until we are convinced that our neighbor will not build his identity by stealing the history of Bulgaria.
And so, as Zaev pointed out to Kelly, “Bulgaria has become a problem for [Macedonian] Bulgaria’s new stance was seen by many as an attempt by then-prime minister Boyko Borisov to respond to nationalists as he faced a general election.
At the end of June, Zaev traveled to Sofia with what would have been “concrete proposals” to start negotiations with the interim government to end the crisis. However, the content of the proposal was never clarified and this sparked a political storm in Skopje which threatened the stability of the Zaev government.
Transparency, corruption still a difficult fight
For the country’s conservatives, Zaev’s current negotiation with Sofia has some of the pitfalls and forms of the Greek demand for a name change.
This referendum saw a turnout of less than 40%. Yet Zaev has come to read his re-election as a referendum on this process. “I still have, [for the] second time, the honor of leading the country after the name change of the country, “he told Kelly.
Nonetheless, a lack of transparency and clarity in the process was also noticed by European sponsors in Skopje – indeed, a recent report identified corruption and lack of transparency as one of the most salient problems of the reforms, and last year North Macedonia slipped to its lowest rank on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Zaev took this as a positive, telling Kelly “it means our society is completely open so citizens are no longer afraid to comment publicly. [on] everything that is happening in our country. “
In addition, he retaliated against accusations that his government, which came to power on promises to fight corruption, had failed in this regard. The Prime Minister insisted that “one of the main objectives of the government is to use all effective international tools to fight crime and corruption. And we already have very good results. This report was really bad for us, but we take it completely to learn from it. “
Brain drain continues amid membership issues
Along with widespread corruption, chronic economic distress, including high youth unemployment, has caused the country to experience a wave of emigration which has also impacted its socio-economic future: Zaev admitted that the brain drain has had an effect: “One of the main fights for every country here in south-eastern Europe, also in North Macedonia, is how to make sure that young people stay at home in the country and find a job here and organize their own life here because we have lost a lot in the last 15 years. ”
Many of these emigrants went to the EU in search of better conditions for themselves – in search of a future that the EU had promised to bring to Macedonia 16 years ago. Zaev said that “only a future of the European Union gives us all hope that there will be more and more Europeanization in our country. How more and more rule of law, more and more [of] a good health system, a European education system, a good economic situation in the country, “more European standards here in North Macedonia, that leads us” to a promising future.