Key findings of the 2018 European Commission Report on Macedonia

Skopje, Macedonia; Photo: WikiComons/Raso mk

BRUSSELS – The European Commission published today the country reports for the six Western Balkans states and Turkey. Here we present the key findings in the country report on Macedonia.

Political criteria

The country has finally overcome its most severe political crisis since 2001. The difficult process of government formation reached a critical point during the 27 April 2017 attacks in Parliament, which were condemned in the strongest terms by the international community. Since May 2017, the new reformoriented government has taken steps to address state capture by gradually restoring checks and balances, strengthening democracy and rule of law. The country is undergoing fundamental changes in a more inclusive and open political atmosphere. The municipal elections in October 2017 confirmed the support of citizens for the EU-oriented policies of the government coalition. The Parliament has continued functioning with opposition parties chairing key committees. The Parliament needs to enhance its oversight and legislative functions, including by limiting the extensive use of shortened procedures.

While the inter-ethnic situation was fragile, the situation remained calm overall. The review of the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which ended the 2001 conflict and provides the framework for the inter-ethnic relations, needs to be followed up in a transparent and inclusive manner. The government has shown commitment to increase trust among communities.

Civil society continued to play a constructive role in supporting democratic processes and ensuring greater checks and balances. Since the second half of 2017, the climate in which civil society organisations operate has improved and the government has shown commitment to dialogue and inclusion.

The country is moderately prepared with the reform of its public administration. Good progress has been made with the adoption of the public administration reform strategy and the public financial management reform programme. Concrete efforts have been made towards increasing transparency and accountability and involving external stakeholders in policy‑making. The capacity of the Ministry of Information Society and Administration to drive and coordinate public administration reform needs to be improved. Strong political commitment to guarantee the professionalism of the public administration, especially on senior management appointments, and the respect for the principles of transparency, merit and equitable representation in line with the spirit and the letter of the law, remains essential.

The country’s judicial system has reached some level of preparation and good progress was made, notably in the latter part of the reporting period. The backsliding of previous years has started to be reversed through decisive steps taken in recent months, notably to start restoring the independence of the judiciary. The country adopted a credible new judicial reform strategy which lays the basis for further reform in this field, and key pieces of legislation have been amended in line with recommendations of the Venice Commission and the “Urgent Reform Priorities”. The Special Prosecutor’s Office faces less obstruction from the courts, allowing it to work more effectively. To address outstanding recommendations and to ensure the judiciary can function without undue influence will require sustained efforts.

As regards the fight against corruption, the country has achieved some level of preparation. The legislative and institutional framework is in place, as well as a track record on both prevention and prosecution, although final court rulings on high level corruption cases remain limited. Corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem. The capacity of institutions to effectively tackle corruption has shown structural and operational deficiencies. Political interference remains a risk.

In the fight against organised crime, the country has reached some level of preparation. The legislative framework is broadly in line with European standards, and efforts to implement strategies must continue. The country has taken steps towards reforming the system of interception of communications and to address the related “Urgent Reform Priorities”. More needs to be done to effectively fight certain forms of crime such as money laundering and financial crimes. Coordination among all relevant stakeholders is essential. A track record on investigations, prosecutions and convictions in the fight against organised crime needs to be improved. The number of convictions remains low.

The legal and institutional framework for protection of fundamental rights is largely in place and reforms have enhanced compliance with European human rights standards. Full implementation requires sustained efforts. It is positive that the country ratified the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention), initiated the necessary legal reforms for establishing an external oversight mechanism of the law enforcement authorities and that the amendments to the framework for non-discrimination were prepared in an inclusive manner. The situation in prisons and psychiatric institutions must be addressed, cases of hate crime and hate speech must be followed up and bodies involved in protecting and promoting human rights must be strengthened. More efforts are needed as regards Roma inclusion. As regards freedom of expression, the country has achieved some level of preparation and made good progress, notably through an improved climate for the media and decreased pressure on journalists. The country needs to address remaining challenges, including reform of the public broadcaster.

With regard to regional cooperation, the country maintained its good relations with other enlargement countries and participated actively in regional initiatives. Decisive steps have been taken to improve good neighbourly relations, including through the entry into force of the bilateral treaty with Bulgaria. The “name issue” needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency. Talks on the “name issue” have intensified under the auspices of the United Nations. Constructive discussions at Prime Minister and Foreign Minister levels positively assessed progress in the implementation of the confidence building measures. The joint announcement by the Prime Ministers of Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in January 2018, involving the renaming of Skopje airport and a highway and proceeding with some delayed EU initiatives, were concrete signs of strengthening mutual trust.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continued to manage the effects of the migration and refugee crisis. The country is in the process of negotiating with the European Union the status agreement on actions to be carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency in the country. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has made efforts to improve its legal framework. Work on amending the Law on Foreigners is ongoing. The country continued to implement its Resolution on Migration Policy. The country maintained its efforts to improve its asylum system and migration management. Systematic registration of migrants and protective-sensitive profiling, to guarantee that those individuals’ needs are addressed, is still needed. The country continued to cooperate with neighbouring countries and Member States, in particular at technical level, and made substantial efforts to provide shelter and humanitarian supplies, primarily with EU support.

Economic criteria

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has made some progress and is at a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. Despite the political stalemate in the first half of the year, noteworthy improvements took place, in particular in public finance management and transparency. Key weaknesses of the economy remain. These include shortcomings in the business environment, such as weak contract enforcement and a large informal economy. Structural problems of the labour market are reflected in low activity and high unemployment rates. The macroeconomic environment deteriorated in the first half of 2017, as the lengthy political crisis took a toll on investment. Fiscal policy is geared towards short-term measures and lacks a durable consolidation plan.

The economy has made some progress and is moderately prepared to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the EU. Further progress was made towards diversification of exports and higher-value added output in the manufacturing sector. Trade and investment relations with the EU continued to intensify. The economy still suffers from weaknesses in education curricula, low innovation rates and important investment gaps including in particular public infrastructure.

EU legislation

As regards its ability to assume the obligations of membership, the country is moderately prepared in most areas, including in the areas of competition, transport and energy. The country shows a good level of preparation in areas such as company law, customs union, trans-European networks and science and research. Further efforts are needed across the board, in particular in those few areas where the country is at an early stage of preparation, such as freedom of movement of workers. More focus is also needed on administrative capacity and effective implementation. The country has continued to improve its alignment with the EU declarations and Council decisions on Common Foreign and Security Policy.