Macedonia hopes to receive a positive recommendation from the EU in order to open accession negotiations soon. The country is working hard to improve its visibility, as well as to fulfil the necessary political and economic criteria.
Gabriela Konevska-Trajkovska is vice-president responsible for European integration in the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Do you think that the success of the June Summit in finding a compromise on the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) mandate increases the chances of FYROM joining the EU?
I think that the positive atmosphere that now prevails in the EU will be reflected in its enlargement policy. Macedonia and Croatia are the Balkan countries that have attained candidate status. Macedonia was also the first country to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2001, which we have implemented over the past six years.
We have adopted the necessary national instruments for pre-accession, so we think we are on the right track. I hope we will soon receive the recommendation for the opening of negotiations, and start the process to become a full member.
Would you predict concrete dates? Do you think that you can catch-up with Croatia, which has already opened some negotiating chapters?
The best outcome for us would be to receive a positive recommendation from the Commission by the end of this year, or at the beginning of next year. Then we could start negotiations during the Slovenian Presidency.
In some of the member states there is still a great reluctance towards further EU enlargement. Macedonia is surely a less-controversial case than certain other candidates. However, the fact that it is not very well known could also be a disadvantage. Will you try to increase your visibility?
You are right. We have to work on our visibility, and we must be strongly present not only in Brussels, but also in each member country. That was also one of the reasons for my visit to Slovakia – we think that it can help us to prepare for accession to the EU.
There are two main areas of interest. The first is EU policy during the negotiation process, and the second is preparing to use EU funds before and after accession. We want to promote an exchange of ideas and practices at government level and at the level of national parliaments, but also at the level of cultural and economic exchange, as well as tourism.
Where do you think the greatest risks on the EU and Macedonian sides lie?
Of course, risks can appear on both sides. The first issue concerns the dynamism and sustainability of the positive atmosphere for enlargement that currently exists within the EU. One thing is that the general policy proceeds in the right direction, but the second thing is when that is going to happen.
The Western Balkans now finds itself at a crucial moment in its evolution and it has to see positive signs that the process of EU enlargement goes on. That would help to solve the issues of political and regional stability, as well as other problematic questions.
A second risk could appear within the country. We have to be consistent in our programme and work very hard to fulfil political and economic criteria. We are definitely ready for the negotiations. Our team is prepared and we will also involve other stakeholders in the process, allowing them to take part in forming our negotiating position – such as civil society, industry, etc.
We are now creating a platform and methodology, among the government and Parliament, to put forward our positions for the negotiation process.
What is the public opinion on EU membership in your country? Has it changed in the face of scepticism towards enlargement in the EU?
More than 90% of Macedonians are in favour of European integration. Our people are really willing to become part of the European family. They are willing to support the necessary reforms, which puts great responsibility on their political representatives.
The government has to maintain a policy that will bring us closer to the EU. Therefore, everything we do in favour of European integration is guided by the principle of ownership. Everything we do, we do for our citizens. Not for Brussels, nor for London, nor for Paris, nor for Bratislava. It is in their interest that we adopt the standards of the European Union.
Some of the new member countries put a lot of effort into joining the EU; however, they do not support deeper political integration of the Union. What is the position of your government? Once a member, would you support projects involving closer co-operation?
For Macedonia, the most important thing will be to preserve the position of small states, to preserve their ability to influence European policy. Second, we will follow the policy of constructive pragmatism.
We support the creation of the post of EU foreign affairs representative, as the EU needs to establish itself as a valid international player. A common foreign policy can help us face the challenges of globalisation. In order to be on same level playing field as the USA, Russia, or China, we need to find a common European policy. We have to make use of the positive energy coming from the latest Summit, and follow lines agreed by all member countries.
Objections against further EU enlargement mostly concern Turkish membership. Do you support Turkey becoming a full EU member, or would you prefer some form of a ”privileged partnership”?
In principle, Macedonia is not against the policy of enlargement. In economic terms, Turkey can play an important role in the EU. On the other hand, it seems that the process of political reform is currently not going very well. Therefore, Turkey should not slow down the other candidate countries’ accession processes. If we decide on a privileged partnership, which would have to be a majority decision by the EU members, then it will also have to respect Turkish interests.
The EU is involved in finding a solution to the Kosovo issue. What impact could the possiblity of independence for Kosovo have on the political and security situation in your region?
Kosovo is one of the hottest political issues in the Western Balkans. The official position of the Macedonian government is that we want to be very constructive. We will fully support any solution agreed bilaterally between Belgrade and Pristina. Furthermore, we think that this question has to be solved as soon as possible. If it remains open, it could create instability and expectations which do not correspond to reality. On the other hand, we think that the international community is playing a valuable role.
Our country supported the Ahtisaari plan, but unfortunately it is not clear how it is going to be implemented. I personally think that Kosovo should have more responsibility for what it is doing, for example in the fight against organised crime and corruption, for a functioning democracy, functioning market economy etc. It is also in our own interest – it is very difficult to have a country or territory in your neighbourhood that does not respect certain political and economic standards.
Therefore, certain standards have to be set and more responsibility handed to this territory. Otherwise it will remain a problem for regional stability. I think that both sides, at the end of the day, will opt for a pragmatic solution. They are both looking for a European perspective and they both want to become EU members one day.
EURACTIV.sk contributed to this article.