13 November, hotel Kontinental, Skopje
Under the name “No EU Negotiations! No Visas?” the Center for Research and Policy Making organized a well attended debate where the latest Progress Report of the European Commission (EC) for Macedonia and the potential visa liberalization for the country were discussed.
The opening speech was delivered by Joan Pierce, the Head of Economic and Financial Operations at the Mission of the EU in Macedonia. She presented the key facts of the latest Progress Report of the European Commission for Macedonia. She said that this report reviews the political and economic priorities each aspiring EU member country has to fulfill in order to meet the standards for membership. While it does not reflect everything that has happened in the country in the covered twelve-month period, it is focused on the Copenhagen criteria, meaning the eight benchmarks. The Commission consults quite widely and the report is based only on verifiable facts. She called it “an objective and fair review of developments, which is based on a painstaking, factual analysis.” She also mentioned that if a specific development has been made in previous years, it is not referred to as progress in the current report. The same methodology and standards have been applied for all countries. Regarding the content, Ms. Pierce pointed out that progress has been made in most political criteria, especially with regard to the Ohrid Agreement, judicial and police reform. However, further efforts need to be made concerning the electoral process, the lack of political dialogue, merit-based promotions system in the administration, and the law-enforcement cooperation in the anti-corruption struggle. However, she commended the readiness of the Government and Parliament to amend the Electoral Code. As regards the economic criteria, she said that the EC was pleased to see that growth was stronger, unemployment reduced, macroeconomic stability was maintained, that it was easier to start and close businesses, and that competitiveness had improved. On the other side, what was worrisome was the rise of inflation and the high unemployment among youth and the less educated. Overall, great progress has been made in the legislative alignment in public procurement, competition, transport, enterprise and industrial policy, information society, and media, as well as in addressing the shortcomings in free movement of goods and labor, taxation, food safety, veterinary and sanitation policy, and particularly environment.
Malinka Ristevska-Jordanovska, State Counsellor for legal affairs for EU integration explained the experience and viewpoint of the Macedonian institutions regarding this issue. She went along two lines – to explain how the Secretariat for European Affairs operates regarding EU interation, and what follows after the report. Since the first report in 2003, she said that every relevant actor from Macedonia has gained bigger and more objective understanding of this process on a higher level. She called the report an “precise technical text,” with very clear criteria and indicators, and with the Government being the main source of information. What is valuable about this report is that we know exactly what is expected from us and what we can do. The biggest challenge at this point is to balance this process and to give priority to the most important aspect – fulfilling the criteria for the start of negotiations for membership. “Most
importantly,” said Ms Ristevska Jordanovska “we have to prepare an action plan for addressing the recommendations from this report, that will concentrate on several aspects within the political criteria, such as elections, political dialogue, the efficient functioning of the institutions, especially the Parliament, […] and ensuring sustainability of what has been already achieved, such as the judicial reform.”
Marija Ristevska, a senior analystat CRPM, was next to take the stand. “We analyz public policies in the country continuously, and we have found that the European agenda is the main initiator for all reforms,” she stted. She mentioned that the report is the only integral document that evaluates the reforms and state of affairs in Macedonia, and it is a true European partnerly contribution to the process. According to Ristevska, the EU sends us three important messages through this report:
1 European integration is not only a check-list; the report puts an accent on the law-making process and the capacity of the institutions to implement the laws.
2 Reforms must be complete and coherent, and if they are run on a project-to-project basis, the report cannot result in positive eveluations (this is especially visible in the part that deals with capacity for membership)
3 The administrative capacity is crucial -the administration should have a vision for European processes, and these should be derived from an internal agenda.
In the areas where there was a debate, a consensus, and self-initiative for instigating reforms, like in the economic reforms, there were good achievements. “What we need to understand is that the EU is a dynamic institution which is constantly improving; therefore it is a moving target,” she added, “and even the member-countries have not fully adapted the European legislature.” However, Ms. Ristevska gave two remarks about the inconsistency of the EC in the case of Macedonia – the persistent calling for a political dialogue, even though it is a European jargon used for the foreign affairs of the European Three and has not been a criteria for any other country, and the name issue being a prerogative for good neighborly relations, even though it is an issue about the right for self-determination of a peoples.
Finally, Professor Nazmi Maliqi from the South-East European University, gave his opinion on this issue and generally reaffirmed the views of the previous speakers. He saw the report as a very objective document which directs the society towards the most important question for building stability. Macedonia in not in a crisis for normative acts, and will have no trouble adapting to European legislative norms, but the more important recommendations refer to the implementation of the law and the level of trust of the citizens in the state institutions. He addressed Ristevska’s critique about the political dialogue, by adding that we are a unique society, and this should be taken as a good recommendation. The parties in power should take these recommendations as very useful. As the EU only confirmed the conclusions from previous debates, the inter-ethnic and political consensus should be a strategic point for the relevant stakeholders.
In the questions sections, a journalist from A1 TV said that he has trouble understanding what exactly is being done on the basis of the previous reports, and
addressed a specific question about the staff changes in the Secretariat for European Affairs in breach with the Law for Civil Servants.
Ristevska-Jordanovska shortly answered that such promotions cannot be done, and that the law will be respected fully.
Pierce reinserted that the country has a good record in enacting legislation, but is lacking implementation, and that should be the focus in the years ahead. As regards Ristevska’s remarks about political dialogue, she said that, in this country, one aspect of institutions guaranteeing democracy is political dialogue, and if it was not mentioned in other countries, it was because it was not an issue there, while in Macedonia it is. And concerning the name issue, the Commission focuses on things specifically relevant to the accession, and it stresses the importance of good neighborly relations.
At this contentious point, Ristevska answered that in Macedonia we have a functioning government, while in Serbia, the Czech Republic and Belgium there were no governments for a prolonged period. It is the consultative processes that needs to be insisted on. The political parties need not be agreeing, but at least they are talking.
Further on the agenda was the topic of visa liberalization, and the analyst Sanja Kostovska from CRPM presented the report “Macedonia’s progress regarding the benchmarks set in the EU Road Map for visa liberalization.” She said that the initial Agreement for Visa Fascilitation did not, unfortunately, manage to fulfill its goals. However, through signing the Road Map for visa liberalization in May 2008, Macedonia gained a clear and comprehensive set of criteria to be completed, and what is most importantly, with a limited space for subjective evaluation for deciding which country has fulfilled the conditions. In waiting for the official report from the European Commission about Macedonia’s progress with regard to the visa liberalization, the signals coming from the EU are that Macedonia has fulfilled most of the technical criteria and is ahead of the other countries from Western Balkans. Ms. Kostovska explained the Macedonian progress in the four areas of the Road Map: Document Security, Migration, Public Order and Security, and External Relations and Fundamental Rights. As successes, Kostovska pointed out the issuing of biometric passports, the formation of National Coordination Center for Border Management, the National Visa Center, and the Inter-Ministerial Group for Migration Politics. Also, a positive aspect is the signing of the Readmission Agreements, and Protocols for Implementation with the individual member-countries need to be signed. Further, there has been success in the fight against organized crime, money laundry, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and corruption, and in the international judicial and police cooperation. “The general conclusion is that Macedonia fulfills most of the criteria from a technical aspect, but there is some space for negative remarks in the administrative capacities, technical equipment, and budgetary work.”
The Chancellor for EU Relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agneza Rusi, commended CRPM for their excellent report and said that the conclusions in the report are not far from the Ministry’s views. The visa dialogue, which started five years ago with the Thessaloniki Agenda, is ongoing on a daily basis between expert teams from Macedonia and the EU. Like Kostovska, she added that Macedonia is ahead of its neighbors in this issue. Reaffirming the successes like the previous speaker, she mentioned that they expect to be criticized about the IT connectivity in the integrated
border management, but public tenders have been called for software and hardware solutions. The Visa Center is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year, two-thirds from the GRECO recommendations have been fulfilled, and a central database for foreigners is in the making.
Mr. Patrick Paquet, the Head of Political and Information Section at the EU Mission in Macedonia, gave the view of the EU on the visa liberalization issue. He said that the situation we have today – the visa regime – is a result of 17 years of instability in this region, but that the EU is a serious partner for Macedonia in helping to achieve the liberalization. “We need to be sure that we have a reliable partner on the other side of the border, if we are to lift visas,” he added. He called the visa facilitation and readmission agreement as intermediate steps in the whole process. “From January 1st we have changed the nature of the relations between EU and this country. It is no longer unilateral, but a bilateral relation based on partnership and trust.”
However, the visa fascilitation was criticized by the final speaker, Ms.Tanja Ademi Hafner from the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation. She presented a research they had done by reviewing the experiences of ordinary citizens who had applied for Schengen Visas. At the info-line they had opened, only five per cent of applicants had had positive experiences, while over 40 per cent had complaints. They had complaints about not being informed why they were rejected visas, about having additional costs through the new consular call-centers, not being treated in a polite manner, or the procedures were too long. A principle problem, according to her, was that the name of the process was too pretentious. The citizens thought that the facilitation brought simpler procedures, but found that they had been highly misinformed. The frustrations of the citizens of the former Yugoslav countries are that they had already experienced the free movement in the past, and now they feel cut off from a basic right and privilege. Ms. Ademi Hafner finished by saying that the fears from illegal migration and organized crime as a result of a liberalized visa regime are highly unfounded, and her Center plans on analyzing the effects from the eventual liberalization.