This piece was originally published on BiEPAG blog
By: Nikola Ditrov nad Zoran Nechev
Less than three months since the EU “started the opening phase” of accession negotiations with North Macedonia, the European Commission 2022 country report has received little, to no public attention. What used to be the most eagerly awaited document on the state of reforms in the country has been reduced to few sporadic and largely technical news pieces. In contrast, the recent opening of the Bulgarian cultural centre in Ohrid named after the Bulgarian king Boris III who joined the Axis pact and in return received large parts of Macedonia and Thrace, created a public storm of condemnation and outrage.
The forced removal of its sign taking place on the day the EC Report was published received much more media attention. These developments underline a major concern the authors share: that identity politics and revisionist agendas defocus the country from what the accession process must be about – transformation of Macedonian society in line with the Copenhagen criteria.
The Report ignores this challenge when it describes the protests erupting in July as “protests … against the proposals designed to remove the obstacles to the opening of EU accession negotiations.” Similarly, referring to the “intense debates in Parliament” on these proposals, it does not acknowledge that the parliamentarians during the debate had had no access to one of the key elements of the proposals: the Bilateral protocol between North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Notably, North Macedonia has reached a good level of preparation with regard to the Common Foreign and Security policy, making very good progress by fully aligning with the EU following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, once again showcasing that it is a reliable partner to the EU. Furthermore, the Report takes note of the efforts citizens made in hosting refugees from Ukraine, who have been granted a temporary protection status.
The country ranks second in the region, after Montenegro, when it comes to overall preparedness for membership, being moderately prepared in most clusters. In the reporting period, it has made more progress than Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but less than Albania and Montenegro.
The country continues to show its commitment and has delivered results in key fundamental areas. However, the European Commission warns of limited progress in addressing the outstanding recommendations made by the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission.
North Macedonia remains moderately prepared in terms of its public administration reform, but has made limited progress in this area due to the delay of key legislation promoting merit and countering cronyism. The Commission again praises the work of the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption in this regard, but calls for more support and follow up on its findings. The country has achieved some level of preparation / is moderately prepared in the prevention and fight against corruption. Some progress has been made, including with building a track record on investigating, prosecuting and trying several corruption cases, including at a high level.
When it comes to the work of the Parliament, the Report acknowledges challenges in terms of the usage of the shortened procedure. Namely, out of 213 pieces of legislation adopted by the Parliament in 2021, 81 were processed under this shortened procedure. The usage of the ‘EU flag’ procedure is also being questioned.
Lack of progress in implementing the commitments made from the ‘Jean Monnet Dialogue’ has been mentioned explicitly, which includes amending the rules of procedure, increased governmental oversight, public hearings, the parliamentary calendar and procedures for EU-flagged laws.
The National Council for EU Integration within the Parliament should do much more in order to secure broad consensus on the EU agenda. All involved actors regardless should take their part of the responsibility for advancing North Macadonia in the EE accession process.