The Macedonian Framework Document and European Standards

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Macedonian Framework Agreement dem-onstrates that the international community has learned important lessons from peace proc-esses, elsewhere in Europe, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Ireland.

The Framework Document has four basic ideas – cessation of hostilities, decentralisation of government, political re-balancing and cul-tural issues. In some cases it simply echoes the existing European standards on these issue; in some cases it goes beyond them.

Section 2 of the framework document, on the cessation of hostilities requires “voluntary dis-armament of the ethnic Albanian armed groups and their voluntary disbandment” – there is no equalisation between the Macedo-nian security forces and the NLA. Both are expected to observe the ceasefire, but the Ma-cedonian army is not expected to disband!

NATO’s mission to collect arms from the NLA got off to a very bad start with a fatal assault on a British soldier, underlining the fact that peacekeepers themselves are often at risk. There has been predictable controversy about the total amount of weapons which can be ex-pected to be collected. Compared with the problematic provisions on disarmament in the Northern Ireland peace agreement of 1998, which have caused a major crisis there this summer, the responsibilities of the parties are quite clearly stated.

Section 3 of the framework document on de-centralisation of government details reforms that would have been necessary in the near future even if there had been no armed conflict in Macedonia. It is a very centralised state, and excessive centralisation carries greater risks of corruption and discrimination.

In general this section and the relevant parts of Annex B contain some very good ideas. There are however two problems which will have to be resolved. First, can the local governments be adequately financed? The proposed mixture of local taxation system and transfers from the central government will need to be finely tuned to remove the potential for political ma-nipulation. Second, what will the terms of ref-erence for the proposed revision of municipali-ties be? Probably the present 123 municipali-ties are too many, and the old number, 34, seems more appropriate (Northern Ireland has 26 municipalities for 1.5 million people). But there needs to be a consensus about how the new boundaries should be decided.

The sections on “non-discrimination and equi-table representation” and “special parliamen-tary procedures” are probably the most impor-tant parts of the document. Fortunately they are also the most impressive. The provisions on non-discrimination, and on remedying past discrimination, are fairly unremarkable (though one could wish for more specifics).

The interesting part is the provision that a third of the judges on the Constitutional Court, three members of the Judicial Council, and the Om-budsman, must be chosen by a majority of the Sobranie “that includes a majority of the Rep-resentatives claiming to belong to the communities not in the majority in the population of Macedonia”. A similar provision applies to “laws that directly affect culture, use of language, education, personal documentation, and use of symbols, as well as laws on local finances, local elections, the city of Skopje, and boundaries of municipalities” though they re-quire only a majority of votes, not of the So-branie as a whole.

There is a slightly higher threshold for consti-tutional amendments which touch on the core areas of the agreement. To the existing re-quirement of a two-thirds majority is added the qualification that the votes in favour must in-clude “a majority of the Representatives claim-ing to belong to the communities not in the majority in the population of Macedonia”

This is very impressive, not only because the need for qualified majority has been restricted to the most sensitive top ics, but also because members of the Sobranie will decide for them-selves whether or not they are members of the majority community – it is an individual deci-sion, not a group decision.

To explain that last point: many instruments for the resolution of ethnic conflicts have tended to enshrine collective, rather than indi-vidual rights: the Dayton Peace Agreement is one notorious example, and the Northern Ire-land agreement goes partly the same way. Those who do not wish to identify with the main factions are excluded from influence in both Dayton Bosnia and Northern Ireland. In this case, however, the formula proposed em-phasises the individual responsibility of mem-bers of the Sobranie, rather than group vetoes wielded by tribal chieftains. It is probably as close as you can get to the ideal of a civic de-mocracy in an ethnically divided society.

Finally, the sections on “Education and Use of Language” and “Expression of Identity” are pretty much copied from the relevant Euro-pean conventions. Some may feel that a 20% threshold for the rights of minority populations in a municipality is far too high. The rule in Finland is that if the minority population in a municipality is 6% or more, then the munici-pality must consider itself bilingual. However, the various parties in Macedonia have agreed on a 20% threshold, and it is a matter for them.

In many ways the most convincing feature of the Framework Document is that it refers throughout to “Macedonia” – not “FYROM”. After almost ten years of humiliation for a country that has been recognised under an fic-tional name, it is significant that European and US negotiators have decided to simply ignore the issue; for them it is no longer a serious problem. It is reasonable for the Government of Macedonia to use this opportunity to push the international community to resolve this issue. In general this document should be wel-comed by Macedonians of all ethnicities; it offers the opportunity for a “historic compro-mise” among the citizens of Macedonia, after which they can work together on bringing their state fully into the European family.

The crucial short-term issues now are the col-lection of weapons by NATO, and the ratifica-tion of the Agreement, and relevant constitu-tional amendments, by the Sobranie. The first of these is an important test of the good faith of the ethnic Albanians; the second depends much more on the ethnic Macedonians. The two sides will be judged as much on their ap-parent good will towards the peace process as on their actual performance. International pressure on key individuals will be essential to prevent a deterioration from uneasy peace to a further conflict which would have no easy exit.

, Research Fellow

For an in-depth analysis, see CEPS

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