The Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday welcomed the Deputy Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who said “Macedonia is a positive example of the EU’s enlargement policy and its effects.” The committee also adopted a draft resolution on the country’s progress towards EU accession, which calls for the opening of accession negotiations.
The debate with Deputy Prime Minister Vasko Naumovski centred on the political situation, including the opposition parties’ boycott of parliament and the early elections that will likely take place in the early summer. The state of media freedoms, inter-ethnic relations and the name dispute with Greece were also brought up. In the context of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Ohrid framework agreement, which ended the ethnic conflict in the country, the Deputy Prime Minister said “Macedonia is the Sweden of the Balkans in terms of minority rights.”
Accession prospects and remaining challenges
In a draft resolution adopted by a large majority (49-7-3) the same day in the committee, MEPs “congratulate the Government on the effective and smooth implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU” but “regret that the Council has not taken a decision on the opening of accession negotiations as recommended by the Commission for a second year in a row.”
At the same time, MEPs express concern about the growing inter-ethnic tensions in the country, as well as the deep problems with the political culture. They call on opposition parties to “end the boycott of the national parliament and to resume dialogue within institutions,” while reminding all parties that it is “the responsibility of the government and the opposition to ensure” the dialogue needed for the country to face its challenges.
The committee also worries about the high unemployment rate among young people and makes specific mention of the several continuing problems the country faces. These include the fight against corruption, which remains prevalent, plans for judiciary reform, which need to be swiftly implemented and the deterioration of media freedom, including the politicization of media and interference in their work.
What’s in a name?
About the name issue that has dogged the country’s accession progress since its beginnings, the draft resolution “strongly regrets the fact that the name dispute with Greece continues to block the country’s road to EU accession and recalls its recommendation to the Council to start the accession negotiations immediately.” In addition, MEPs note with concern the “use of historical arguments in the current debate, including the phenomenon of so-called ‘antiquisation,’ which threatens increasing tensions with neighbours and creating new internal divisions.”