Authors: Nikola Dimitrov and Zoran Nechev
This piece was originally published on BiEPAG blog.
The 2023 EU Commission report on North Macedonia is one of the worst reports in the recent country’s history. The wide gap between lip service given by the government and delivery on the implementation of EU related reforms is clearly spelled out: “The authorities have consistently stated that EU accession remains their strategic goal. As a negotiating country, North Macedonia needs to deliver on the implementation of EU related reforms, including in the areas of the fundamentals cluster notably the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organised crime, public administration reform, including management of public finances, and public procurement.”
With regular presidential and parliamentary elections around the corner, no progress was made to address and implement the outstanding recommendations by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Venice Commission on electoral legislation.
Alarmingly, there was no progress in the field of the judiciary reforms. The report puts the Judicial Council in the spotlight, inter alia, hinting at undue political influence over the controversial dismissal of the President of the Judicial Council. This is of particular importance, given the role the Judicial Council plays or is supposed to play in the protection of the integrity and independence of the judiciary. The election of the new Head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Prosecuting Organised Crime and Corruption was organised in an untransparent manner in a process that did not stipulate any qualifying criteria. The report goes further and takes note of possible external influence in the process.
Similarly, no progress was made in the all-important prevention and fight against corruption. For the European Commission, the recent changes using an expedited parliamentary procedure of the Criminal Code are a matter of serious concern. By reducing the maximum legal penalties for specific corruption-related criminal offences, the statute of limitations has been directly affected. In the short term, this has resulted in halting or even terminating, a large number of high-level corruption cases, including the ones from the former Special Public Prosecutor’s Office.
In the long ran, the amendments also hamper the authorities’ ability to investigate and prosecute such offences. To complete the picture, the Report also outlines that the amendments of crucial parts of the Criminal Code, proposed by the government, were adopted while misusing the ‘EU flag’ procedure, which is exclusively aimed at aligning the national with the EU acquis, and not to short-cut public debate on important issues. In the same way, the ‘EU flag’ procedure was used to amend number of laws related to the shady deal the government stroke for building highways.
The report notes lack of any progress in the adoption of the long-awaited legislation aimed at ensuring merit-based recruitment and fair promotions in the public sector (on administrative servants, on public sector employees, on top levels of management). In practice, a large majority of vacancies in senior ranks were not filled via competitive procedures but by appointing acting managers.
In terms of the geopolitical realities, North Macedonia was praised about its full aligned with the EU positions on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and other foreign and security policies.
Finally, when it comes to the amendments of the Constitution, the Report outlines North Macedonia’s (government) commitment to include the citizens who live within the borders of the state and who are part of other people.