EC’s report on Macedonia shows that the country has been backsliding in the basic criteria that are fundamental for every liberalistic democratic country – judiciary, freedom of expression and human rights, functioning market economy. These assessments clarify that Greece is only a fragment of the problems Macedonia has on its way to the EU
Author: Teofil Blazhevski
The European Commission’s Progress Report for the Republic of Macedonia for 2016 is clear – there won’t be a negotiations recommendation unless the obligations from the Pržino Agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities, i.e. the Report of Reinhard Priebe, are not fulfilled.
This is second year in a row that Macedonia receives conditional recommendation, i.e. it is de facto revoked after receiving positive recommendations for six years, last year’s was the first conditional recommendation. The Report, alongside with its annexes, is 87 pages long and it is within the standard pattern of preparation of the previous reports.
The main remarks contained in the key findings of the 2016 Report on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are partly related to the so called Copenhagen Criteria, which must be unconditionally fulfilled by every country that wants to join the European family. Some of them are related to the rule of law and basic human rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of media and right of free expression.
The remarks are divided into political and economic, and if the economic ones in the past EU reports on this country’s progress comprised the better part, this one contains remarks even on the basic economic criterion – functioning market economy.
THERE IS NO INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY, THERE IS SELECTIVE JUSTICE
One of the remarks is related to the judiciary and its functioning as an independent third branch of government. Albeit the assessment that Macedonia has moderately prepared for the European judiciary standards, the main assessment is that the judiciary has been backsliding.
The situation has been backsliding since 2014 and achievements of the previous decade’s reform process have been undermined by recurrent political interference in the work of the judiciary. The authorities failed to demonstrate necessary political will to address effectively the underlying issues as identified in the ‘Urgent Reform Priorities’ (refers to the judiciary, our remark). The obstructions faced by the newly established Special Prosecutor have shown the need to address effectively the lack of independence of the judiciary and to prevent selective justice.
This direct assessment regarding the third branch of government, with a hint on the Urgent Reform Priorities, aims to remind that Priebe’s Report spawned them, and that Gruevski promised them twice. One of the five remarks in Priebe’s Report was exactly the poor condition of the judiciary.
JEOPARDIZED HUMAN RIGHTS, LACK OF POLITICAL WILL
EC states that the human rights in the country are exercised according to the European standards, but only on paper.
More efforts are needed in practice to ensure the respect of human rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees and migrants. There is also a continuing lack of political will and adequate resources to enable the relevant supervisory and regulatory bodies to fulfil their mandate independently and effectively. The most marginalised categories of the population are still not being accorded full protection.
Another field that was supposed to be covered by the Urgent Reform Priorities, i.e. the recommendations from Priebe’s Report, is also negatively assessed by the European Commission – the media.
In the area of freedom of expression, the country has some level of preparation. However, freedom of expression and the situation of the media remain a serious challenge in the current political climate.
THERE IS NO FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION BECAUSE OF POLITICS
In the area of fight against corruption, as in other areas with numerous remarks, the report says that there is moderate progress, but only on paper, in the laws and other regulations, but not in practice. This has produced the assessment that corruption is widely spread, and the main reason is the political interference, i.e. the lack of will.
Corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem. The legislative and institutional framework has been developed. However, the structural shortcomings of the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption and political interference in its work have minimised the impact of past efforts. There is still a need to establish a convincing track record, especially on high level corruption cases.
The assessments on the fight against organized crime are slightly bettered, the laws and strategy have progressed. However, the remark is that there are no resources:
The law enforcement capacity to investigate financial crimes and confiscate assets needs to be developed further.
CRITIQUES FOR THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
The public administration, though being a general problem for every country, in Macedonia is related to the terms such as: political tool, lack of accountability, politicization and low competitiveness.
The country is moderately prepared with the reform of its public administration. There was some progress, although limited, over the past year. The implementation of the new legal framework on human resources management started…
Rather than being suspended, temporary contracts continued to be transformed into permanent ones without open competition. Ineffective accountability lines, the use of the public sector as a political instrument, allegations of pressure exerted on public employees and alleged politicisation of administration in an electoral year continue to be of concern.
The lack of political will is detected here as well, although intention for dealing with these problems is expressed.
A comprehensive 2017-2022 public administration reform strategy is belatedly under preparation. Furthermore, the lack of political commitment to deliver on necessary reforms in public financial management led to a significant reduction of EU financial assistance in 2016.
THERE IS NO MARKET ECONOMY, THE PUBLIC DEBT IS INCREASING
The European Commission has been giving fairly positive assessments regarding the fulfillment of the economic criteria. This year, it also lists legal amendments in the field of economy and the progress made in this realm.
The “macroeconomic stability and environment”, which are additionally enforced unlike in 2015, are not forgotten, and the EC makes it clear that the “public infrastructure investments have led to some upgrading” of this macroeconomic stability, though the first signs of weakness were evident in the first quarter of 2016.
But, two key sentences are the following:
- Overall, no progress was made towards a functioning market economy during the reporting period (i.e. from the last report onward)
- The management of public finances did not improve and public debt increased further.
EVEN THE HEALTH SYSTEM IS CRITICIZED
The European Commission’s Country Report for the Republic of Macedonia for 2016 emphasized some of the main Copenhagen Criteria from 1993 in a completely clear manner accompanied by serious criticism. Once again, this report de facto confirms what the EU politicians have been timidly, whereas the domestic analysts and Greek politicians explicitly, warning to – Greece is not the only impediment for starting the accession negotiations.
The report comprises a plethora of critiques for other public policy segments in Macedonia and for the ongoing situation as well, and, among other, for one of the trumps of the ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE, the health system. Besides the latest remarks on the way of dealing with infectious diseases HIV/AIDS, here is what the EC says about the investments in the health system:
Though there was some investment and training in public health it was not systemic: for example, new equipment was installed in sub-standard facilities, whereas other facilities lack adequately trained staff.
Establishment of e-medical registers was launched but the e-health card remained only partially functional – is said in the public health section, page 76 in the Report.
By the way, this Report on Macedonia will remain into force until 2018, with possible amendments made by the Council of the European Union in the middle or at the end of December. According to EU’s new rules, as META’s Brussels correspondent said, the EC will be authoring biannual Progress Reports on candidate countries, which means that the next report on Macedonia will be most likely authored in spring, 2018.