Ambassador: Macedonia has just one problem with one EU member

A recent European Parliament resolution, approved by an overwhelming majority of MEPs, shows most of the EU agrees that Macedonia is ready to start accession negotiations, Igor Ilievski, Macedonia's ambassador to Prague, told EURACTIV Czech Republic in an interview.

A career diplomat, Igor Ilievski has previously served as state secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia.

Macedonia has been a candidate country for membership of the European Union since 2005. What does EU membership mean for your country?

Macedonia's membership of the European Union has been supported by all Macedonian politicians and governments since we gained independence in 1991. The many important steps towards membership, for example, submitting the application for membership or signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, were made by politicians from both sides of the political spectrum.

We think that we deserve to become full members of the 'European family' due to our culture, due to our geographical location, due to the ways of doing business and economical reforms which were introduced, especially by the last government (in power since 2006), and finally due to the positive and quick fulfillment of the necessary technical criteria for the start of the negotiations.

Throughout the last 18 years we have made many reforms in the country, which were done in order to make Macedonia a quality and wanted future member of the European family.

What kind of support is there for EU membership among citizens?

There is very big support among the citizens of Macedonia for it. It is fluctuating around the stable level of 90%. The main reason for this constant and high support for membership of the EU is the clear determination and willingness to become a member of the family of states where human rights, the right to freedom, the right to preserve identity, and the right to do business freely have been and remain core values of this common European family.

Our people are aware that EU membership brings many positive effects. One of those 'indirect' positive effects is definitely the visa liberalisation decision, implemented in December last year. By this decision our citizens, businessmen, students and tourists are able to freely commute within the EU member countries, are able to have regular contacts with the citizens of EU countries, and are able to observe and analyse for example the way business is done, which values are the core values of the EU, and how those values are preserved.

How does your government communicate its EU membership strategy to citizens?

The main communication activity is done through the secretariat for European affairs, which is headed by a deputy prime minister. Its main task is to deal with the whole spectrum of EU issues. The Secretariat and its staff have different responsibilities and tasks. One task for example is to continually approximate our legal system with the EU acquis, the other one is to prepare our country for the start of the negotiations and to communicate this strategy to the people and so on.

All necessary information is published and explained on the web page of the Secretariat (www.sep.gov.mk). Another way in which the government communicates this strategy is through regular and direct meetings with the public. Our prime minister and all government officials regularly visit cities and villages and explain the benefits and realistic facts of being an EU member. To put it into context with visa liberalisation, for example, our government organised and sponsored a trip to Paris. Our deputy prime minister headed a delegation of around 100 people, who were drawn in a national lottery. They could enjoy the fact that Macedonian people can travel freely to the EU.

In the beginning of February the European Parliament gave a positive overall verdict on last year's effort by Macedonia to qualify for EU membership. MEPs have been satisfied with all the necessary reforms made by your government to open the accession negotiations. They have also welcomed the progress your country has made in the fight against corruption and the fact that the presidential elections in 2008 met international standards.

On the other hand, they reminded your government to continue with the ongoing process of decentralisation of your country, improving inter-ethnic relations and for instance improving the implementation of environment legislation. What was the reaction of your government?

The EP resolution which you mentioned was approved by a great majority of MEPs, who just supported and reconfirmed the recommendation of the EC to start the negotiations, given couple of months earlier, namely in October 2009. We consider it as one more step in convincing all politicians and member countries of EU that Macedonia is ready to negotiate and that the conditions, which were enhanced last year, were in this moment fulfilled. It means that at this moment we are facing only one problem, on the political level, caused by only one member of EU.

In this regard I would like to stress the fact that it has been for the first time in the history of EU when one country obtained positive report from EC, which was unfortunately followed by "negative" (delayed) decision from the EU politicians for the start of the negotiations and I can not resist here by drawing one paradoxical parallel with one other country (our southern neighbor who is currently blocking our membership) which was the only to obtain a negative report from the EC and on political level to obtain a visa for the start of the negotiations.

You did not mention the name of the country blocking your country’s opening of the accession negotiations, and also preventing you from joining NATO, but we all know that Greek objects to your country’s constitutional name. Recently some diplomatic moves took place, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has contacted his Greek counterpart George Papandreou and offered him a meeting, Matthew Nimetz, a special UN envoy, Štefan Füle, the EU commissioner for enlargement, and probably also Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister are helping solve the issue. What can we expect?

Despite the big achievements made by Macedonia on its way to the EU, unfortunately the opening of the negotiations with EU has been blocked by one EU member state. As I mentioned before all Macedonian politicians and citizens see the EU as a community with special values, where human dignity, human rights or the right for self-identification have the biggest worth and value. Therefore it is a little bit not fair to expect that the price for entering the club, where the above mentioned values are the highest ones, is to recall them. We definitely remain focused on finding a mutually acceptable solution on this issue.

What does your government consider the most difficult area to reform?

The biggest tasks and achievements were definitely done in the economy. I think we performed quite good success in that field but there is always something that needs to be reformed in order to keep the process moving and to make from Macedonia a "quality and wanted future member of the European family". This process was unfortunately a little bit slowed down because of the global economic crisis which hit all the European countries. The other spheres like the judiciary, administration, education are also under constant reform processes, so it is very difficult for me to say which of those branches is most or least problematic and which one requires most or least time to be on the satisfactory level. But I think that most of the reform processes are moving in a good direction.

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