EC 2020 Report for North Macedonia: Case for launching negotiations strengthened

Analysis of the European Commission Report on the Republic of North Macedonia from 6 October 2020.

This report is the first one following the political decision of the EU for the start of negotiations with our country from May 2020.

The findings on North Macedonia in these documents are particularly important in order to maintain and strengthen the case for actual start of negotiations with the holding of the first inter-governmental conference by the end of this year – according to the plan of the German Presidency.

In this analysis, the European Policy Institute – EPI Skopje focus on the key aspects of the Enlargement Strategy which are related to North Macedonia as well as on the specific report for our country.

EC2020REPORT_CASE-FOR-LAUNCHING-NEGOTIATIONS-STRENGTHENED

Q&A on the Call for Proposals

Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility

The Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility (SGF) of the WeBER 2.0 Project will be implemented in the period January 2021 – January 2022. A total sum of 225.000 EUR will be allocated to support up to 30 grants. The answers to all questions raised by the potential applicants are published below. The integral Q&A list is available in English as well as in local languages.

ENGLISH

SERBIAN

BOSNIAN

MONTENEGRIN

MACEDONIAN

ALBANIAN

A better economic situation without the rule of law is not possible

October 13th, 2020 – An Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans, with which the EU has dedicated up to 9 billion euros for “the Western Balkans long-term economic recovery and regional economic integration”. This is the amount that the EU, or European Parliament, should approve under the next EU budget from 2021 to 2027.

The plan identifies key areas for projects and investments in the Western Balkans. These include the creation of sustainable transport and energy networks, environmental and digital renewal, strengthening the competitiveness of the private sector, support for health, education and social protection. Although there are no conditions for receiving this assistance in the plan itself, it is clear that these funds should be used by the Western Balkan countries to meet the criteria for EU accession – to improve the rule of law, public administration, democratic institutions and judiciary, economic reforms and so on, which is clearly determined by the EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans. This is the conclusion of today’s event organised by the Dutch institute Clingendael with the Think for Europe Network (TEN).

Allan Jones from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, one of the speakers at the panel, said that the EU adopted the plan because it recognised the need to support and accelerate “economic convergence”, approaching the economic standard of the EU and the Western Balkans.

“The EU wants to increase competitiveness, support the green and digital economy, unleash the economic potential of the region, increase the scope of economic cooperation among the countries of the region and encourage reforms,” he said. “However, the rule of law is a necessary condition, and if there is a setback, stagnation or insufficient progress, we will have to find ways to solve this problem,” he said.

“The region has made great progress when it comes to post-conflict transition, but we need to work on both political and economic criteria. The Western Balkans are still far from being able to withstand the pressure of the EU market economy,” Jones said.

European Policy Centre – CEP Programme Director, Milena Lazarević, said that the guarantee fund, which will be provided by the Economic and Investment Plan, has additional value, especially bearing in mind that economic aid has often come from parts of the world that are “not the most democratic”, with often disguised conditions.

“This plan shows the ‘human face’ of the accession process and aims to make the benefits of EU accession more tangible to the people,” said Simonida Kacarska from Macedonia’s European Policy Institute (EPI). “The EU’s desire is to work on building future EU member states, and this is shown by this plan,” she explained. 

Gjergi Vurmo from the Tirana-based think tank, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) says that many civil society organisations and other stakeholders have “urged” for the plan like this, given the growing pressure from the presence of other actors and countries in the region, such as China and Russia.

Wouter Zweers from Clingendael Institute told that the Economist estimated the difference between the average income in the EU and the Western Balkans was 15 times larger in 2017 than in 1989, and that some scenarios predict that the Western Balkans will need “200 years to move closer to the EU in economic terms. “The question is whether this plan will be enough to achieve economic convergence, ” he added.

Watch full discussion here.

A better economic situation without the rule of law is not possible

October 13th, 2020 – An Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans, with which the EU has dedicated up to 9 billion euros for “the Western Balkans long-term economic recovery and regional economic integration”. This is the amount that the EU, or European Parliament, should approve under the next EU budget from 2021 to 2027.

The plan identifies key areas for projects and investments in the Western Balkans. These include the creation of sustainable transport and energy networks, environmental and digital renewal, strengthening the competitiveness of the private sector, support for health, education and social protection. Although there are no conditions for receiving this assistance in the plan itself, it is clear that these funds should be used by the Western Balkan countries to meet the criteria for EU accession – to improve the rule of law, public administration, democratic institutions and judiciary, economic reforms and so on, which is clearly determined by the EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans. This is the conclusion of today’s event organised by the Dutch institute Clingendael with the Think for Europe Network (TEN).

Allan Jones from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, one of the speakers at the panel, said that the EU adopted the plan because it recognised the need to support and accelerate “economic convergence”, approaching the economic standard of the EU and the Western Balkans.

“The EU wants to increase competitiveness, support the green and digital economy, unleash the economic potential of the region, increase the scope of economic cooperation among the countries of the region and encourage reforms,” he said. “However, the rule of law is a necessary condition, and if there is a setback, stagnation or insufficient progress, we will have to find ways to solve this problem,” he said.

“The region has made great progress when it comes to post-conflict transition, but we need to work on both political and economic criteria. The Western Balkans are still far from being able to withstand the pressure of the EU market economy,” Jones said.

European Policy Centre – CEP Programme Director, Milena Lazarević, said that the guarantee fund, which will be provided by the Economic and Investment Plan, has additional value, especially bearing in mind that economic aid has often come from parts of the world that are “not the most democratic”, with often disguised conditions.

“This plan shows the ‘human face’ of the accession process and aims to make the benefits of EU accession more tangible to the people,” said Simonida Kacarska from Macedonia’s European Policy Institute (EPI). “The EU’s desire is to work on building future EU member states, and this is shown by this plan,” she explained. 

Gjergi Vurmo from the Tirana-based think tank, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) says that many civil society organisations and other stakeholders have “urged” for the plan like this, given the growing pressure from the presence of other actors and countries in the region, such as China and Russia.

Wouter Zweers from Clingendael Institute told that the Economist estimated the difference between the average income in the EU and the Western Balkans was 15 times larger in 2017 than in 1989, and that some scenarios predict that the Western Balkans will need “200 years to move closer to the EU in economic terms. “The question is whether this plan will be enough to achieve economic convergence, ” he added.

BiEPAG’s Experts react: EC 2020 Progress Report on Albania

Many of us in Albania had very mixed feelings when reading the last EC report. Let me explain why.

If the executive summary of the report hypothetically were to read “this year, the wolves decided to spare the life of the sheep”, apparently, the wolves would be praised as heroes. Nevertheless, if one also considers the other finding (buried somewhere between pages 90 and 95) that “the wolves, however, tried every trick to hunt down every single sheep”, then it is clear that the sheep are the true heroes (for surviving the wolves’ hunt) and the wolves are, of course, “les mechants”.

Commission reports are increasingly seen as political and biased. To a large extent, the EC has helped to build such a perception by highlighting findings in its reports which will not make WB governments uncomfortable. Of course, one cannot accuse the EC of deception. After all, the problematic findings are usually stated in the report, although not in the highlights section. Such an approach, however, misleads the audience – whether specialised or not. Furthermore, it brings into question the credibility of the EC and its reports.

To illustrate with a few examples. The summary of the EC report for Albania notes “no progress” in relation to the freedom of expression and civil society during the reporting period. However, on page 33 the same report underlines that the counter-terrorism police (!?) arrested a 25 year old civil society activist and held her in custody for 4 days for sharing an article on her Facebook page; or that the police has beaten journalists and other civil society activists attending protests against the demolition of the national theater, and so on and so forth. These findings, combined with the fact that the Government of Albania misused the pandemic in open attack of (what’s left of Albanian) democracy, make one wonder why the freedom of expression in Albania has not declined according to the EC? Why has the defamation package which the EU itself opposed, and which is partially in force in Albania, not affected the freedom of expression systematically?

The EC report’s assessments are sometimes confusing, to say the least. As an example, take the 5 June agreement between ruling and opposition parties on electoral reform and the amendments to the electoral code adopted on 23 July. The EC argues that this implies that the condition for “consensual electoral reform”, set by the Council to open accession talks with Albania, has been met, regardless of the fact that on 5 October 2020 the ruling party adopted other amendments to the electoral code without a consensus with the opposition. It is unclear why the EC thinks that the non-consensual change of the rules on 5 October is unrelated to 5 June.

Here is another example. The EC truthfully reports that the Venice Commission issued an opinion on a dispute about the appointment procedure of one of the judges nominated in late 2019. However, the EC report neglects to mention that on the same dispute, the EU Delegation (hence the EC itself) wrongfully sided with the Government and supported the attempted illegal procedure. Why is this important, beyond its factualness? It is because the EU needs to build its credibility in the eyes of the people, and not to please WB autocrats.

The EU needs to ally with the ambition of WB citizens instead of praising the fake achievements of autocrats. If the EC reports pay lip service to the current autocracy…what will stop them from doing the same with the next autocrat?

Unfortunately, parts of the EC 2020 report for Albania seem like a Machiavellian report which sides with the ambition of daily politics in Albania but not with that of Albanian citizens. And just to be more explicit, Albanians’ ambition is not “EU membership at any cost today”. Rather, our ambition is “democracy and rule of law at any cost first… Once done with that, let’s talk about EU membership too”.

Gjergji Vurmo is the Programme Director of Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Tirana-based think tank.

This blog is originally published on biepag.eu.

EVENT: Closing the economic gap between the Western Balkans and the EU – what role for rule of law conditionality

Online Public Debate, 13th October, 11-12.30h

The Think for Europe Network (TEN) and the Clingendael Institute are looking ahead at the EU’s policies to support socio-economic development of the Western Balkans.

Beyond the immediate assistance the EU provided to the Western Balkans to tackle short-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU is committed to supporting long-term economic development of the Western Balkans through a variety of financial instruments. Given that the region’s economic convergence gap with the EU is widening, many challenges lie ahead before the Western Balkans and the EU, especially in making the best of its available funds dedicated towards this region.

Based on the negative experience with certain EU member states, it seems crucial to ensure that the awaited EU’s financial assistance supports good governance and democratic consolidation, instead of unintentionally producing opposite effects. In fact, European Commission’s country reports proposed a direct link between the functioning of the market economy and the enforcement of the rule of law. At the same time, the just released communication on Economic and Investment Plan pays considerable attention to good governance in the context of economic growth, thus putting additional pressure on EU aspirants to take the “EU fundamentals” more seriously.

This panel discussion will address the of rule of law conditionality in the context of the EU’s economic development assistance, the prospects for the region’s economic catch-up with the EU, as well as how the existing instruments can be embedded in the revised accession methodology and its principles of greater transparency, public scrutiny, and “more for more” approach.

Panellists:

-Allan Jones, Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), European Commission
-Milena Lazarević, European Policy Centre (CEP), Belgrade
-Simonida Kacarska, European Policy Institute (EPI), Skopje
-Gjergji Vurmo, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Tirana
-Wouter Zweers, Clingendael Institute, The Hague

Moderator: Sena Marić, CEP

We welcome your participation and your valuable contribution to this conference! We kindly ask you to confirm your attendance via this link by Monday 12 October.

Information Sessions: WeBER 2.0 Small Grant Facility

WeBER 2.0 – Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration is seeking project proposals for the implementation of the Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility (SGF) for support to civil society monitoring of public administration reform at the local level. Find more information here.

Please find below information about the info sessions that will be held for interested applicants.

Please announce your participation at the info session by contacting the country representative as indicated in the table below.

Country

Organiser of the info session

Date

Time

Contact

Serbia European Policy Centre – CEP 24 September 2020 11.00 Jovana Knezevic jovana.knezevic@cep.org.rs
Albania Institute for Democracy and Mediation – IDM 25 September 2020 11.00 Iliada Korcari ikorcari@idmalbania.org
Kosovo Group for Legal and Political Studies – GLPS 24 September 2020 10.00 Ema Pula ema.pula@legalpoliticalstudies.org 
Montenegro Institute Alternative – IA 24 September 2020 11.00 Dragana Jacimovic dragana@institut-alternativa.org
Bosnia and Herzegovina Foreign Policy Initiative BH – FPI BH 25 September 2020 11.00 Mahir Sijamija mahir@vpi.ba
North Macedonia European Policy Institute – EPI 28 September 2020 12.30 Vaska Ristovska vaska.ristovska@epi.org.mk

Public perceptions of service delivery in the Western Balkans are on the rise

Results from the public perception survey on service delivery suggest that governments in the Western Balkans are striving towards digitalisation and citizen-oriented services.[1] This year’s surveys show that all of the countries in the region are either making progress or remain at the level of the first PAR Monitor 2017/2018.

Public perception points to a more citizen-oriented service delivery

Compared to the results of the previous PAR Monitor, Serbia and Albania record the most noticeable changes with regards to citizens’ perceived simplicity of dealing with public administration (Graph 1). In other words, there were respectively 23 and 18 percentage point increases in these two countries, followed by Montenegro at 14 percentage points.

Survey also show that roughly two thirds of citizens in the region feel that governments are moving towards digitalisation (69%). Apart from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where slightly below 50% of citizens perceive this trend, in all the other countries of the region, between 66 and 81% of citizens surveyed feel this way. At the regional level, citizens noted positive improvement in the time needed to obtain administrative services. This was especially so in Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro, where more than 60% citizens confirmed it has decreased.

It is also worth noting that 58% of citizens in the region claim to recognise governments’ efforts to simplify administrative procedures – more than in the previous PAR Monitor. As before, public administration in Kosovo takes first place according to perceptions, followed by Serbia.

The availability of e-services: more awareness, same levels of usage

The public is increasingly aware of e-services across the Western Balkan countries. Unlike the previous PAR Monitor, no country records below 50% of awareness, with as high as 74% of citizens in Albania (Graph 2). On the flip side, we find that a lot of citizens still do not use these services – a third of citizens in the region stated they had never used them. Additionally, with less than a third of citizens using them either rarely or just sometimes, many used them only occasionally. Notably, only 10% of citizens have used e-services often.

At the same time, surveys show that most citizens in every country (between 70 and 80%) report that e-services are easy to use. This resembles the results of PAR Monitor 2017/2018, in which approximately 80% of citizens surveyed in all countries included reported the ease of use of these services.

Bearing in mind the high awareness figures, a lack of information on e-services is unlikely to account for the low-level usage. More than two thirds of citizens who used e-services, more or less frequently, had little or no difficulties finalising services they requested. Nonetheless, in terms of public perceptions, there has been tangible improvement in citizen-oriented service delivery in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. On the other hand, the situation in Kosovo and North Macedonia has mostly remained unchanged.

 

 

[1] As for the 2017/2018 PAR Monitor, public perception of the awareness of and usefulness of feedback mechanisms, and their availability to citizens, is measured with public perception surveys that were implemented in each of the Western Balkan countries in the same manner. Surveys were implemented in the period from 5 to 30 May 2020.

 

How are the Republic of North Macedonia and Frontex Handling the Refugee Crisis?

In 2015, EU member states deployed police units to North Macedonia’s border with Greece to assist in handling the refugee crisis. The cooperation has been effective but has lacked transparency.

The so-called “Balkan Route” has been one of the main paths for migrants and refugees to Western Europe. The migrants who arrived in Greece in 2015 had a direct influence on this route with their intention to reach the closest borders of EU member states through the Republic of North Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. In 2015, 764,033 illegal entries of migrants were detected in the Balkans in an attempt to cross the Serbian border with Hungary to further continue their journey to the developed countries. The numbers attest to fact that the challenges of the Balkan migration route cannot be overcome solely by the efforts of one individual country or an EU member state, but through a “joint cross-border approach based on cooperation”.

Security official holding binoculars

Consequently, in May 2015, the European Commission established the European Agenda on Migration to address the challenges relating to illegal migration, borders, asylum and legal migration. Due to EU’s inability to resolve the migrant issue through national policies and activities of individual EU member states, on October 25th, 2015, Jean-Claude Juncker invited the leaders of Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Republic of North Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia to meet in Brussels. The meeting resulted in a “17-point plan of action”, which includes measures for tackling the migration crisis by guiding the operation of the EU agencies towards establishing a system for exchange of information and strengthening the Frontex Western Balkans Risk Analysis Network, with enhanced reporting from all participants.

Cooperation between the Republic of North Macedonia and Frontex

Working Arrangement

On January 19th, 2009, Frontex and the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of North Macedonia signed a Working Arrangement, which entered into force on the following day, January 20th, 2009. The objective of this arrangement is to combat illegal migration and related cross-border crime through information exchange, risk analysis, joint training, research and development projects, joint operational activities and participation in pilot projects, under the authority of the Executive Director of Frontex.

The arrangement gives the Republic of North Macedonia access to Frontex’s services for strengthening the capacities for border control through joint operations, training and development. Such activities involve observation of Frontex-coordinated joint operations in EU countries, cooperation and participation in Frontex-coordinated operations on common borders, such as the border with Greece, information exchange, participation in relevant sessions and meetings of the Frontex Risk Analysis Network (FRAN), etc.

Status Agreement

In July 2018, EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Macedonian Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski signed a Status Agreement that would allow Frontex to deploy units to Macedonia. The agreement will enable Frontex to carry out joint operations in and together with Macedonia in the event of serious or pressing migration issues. The draft version of this agreement will allow a team of a Frontex member state to carry out activities on the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia under the leadership and in the company of our competent authorities. Nonetheless, this clause stipulates that Frontex representatives may communicate their views through they coordination officer to the representatives of the Macedonian police authorities.

In that event, the national authorities need to consider any such views and fully adhere to them. However, this provision may cause inconsistencies in the implementation if the views under consideration are not in accordance with the appropriate (effective) national legislative framework of our country. Hence, there is a potential risk of possible illegal actions. Due to the lack of public awareness of this issue, there is a need for wider public debate until the ratification of the Agreement in order to improve its content.

Source: makfax.com.mk

Foreign Border Guard from the EU and other Countries to the Republic of North Macedonia

Since 2015, the Republic of North Macedonia has closely cooperated with certain EU member states and Serbia in an effort to handle the refugee crisis more successfully, after it reached its “peak”. In 2015, the Republic of North Macedonia stressed at European and regional level the necessity of material and logistical support to effectively deal with illegal migration and offer humanitarian support to refugees. Subsequently, an international cooperation of eight countries has been established, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia.

The purpose of the cooperation is to provide Macedonian border police with assistance from foreign police officers in patrolling the south border with Greece and in performing their daily duties. Furthermore, the cooperation involves joint training, information exchange and coordination. One hundred and sixty six (166) foreign police officers guarded the Macedonian border at the expense of the EU. The number of foreign police officers has gradually increased, and new contingents arrived in the country in 2019.

Even though Article 5 of the Law on State Border Protection stipulates that border control falls within the competence of the Ministry of Interior and that the police departments of the Ministry carry out border control activities, Article 59 of the same law provides for foreign police presence. Namely, this article stipulates that, based on a ratified international agreement, police officers from other countries may perform activities related to border control and other matters related to international police cooperation. On the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia, foreign police officers may use technical equipment and vehicles with symbols, wear uniforms, carry weapons and other means of coercion, under the conditions and in a manner determined by an international agreement.

In this regard, Macedonia concluded with Serbia, Hungary and Austria a Memorandum of Understanding, which is different from the usual agreements signed between countries. The key distinction between this Memorandum and other agreements is that in case of dispute other agreements can be executed through the judicial authorities, whereas this Memorandum of Understanding cannot be. More importantly, the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia has not ratified the signed memorandum. It was never published in the Official Gazette, which makes it only a declarative document. Nonetheless, that did not stop foreign police contingents from coming to our borders in the period from 2015 to 2019.

Need for Transparency

The 2015 refugee crisis challenged the stability of the EU’s internal and external border control. The Balkan countries played a key role in the management and control of EU’s external borders, supported by substantial financial and technical resources provided by the EU, its agencies and EU member states. Despite strengthening police capacities and establishing a good practice for cooperation with foreign police authorities, one cannot but emphasize the lack of transparency in the processes. 

The Memorandum of Understanding signed with foreign police authorities has not been made public, the instrument was not ratified by the Assembly and the exact number of foreign police officers deployed to the Republic of North Macedonia is not available on the websites of the competent authorities. This is a result of the country’s flexible approach to the cooperation with other countries in dealing with the refugee crisis.

Media coverage and statements from the Ministry of Interior are the only sources of information on the situation at the borderlines. Furthermore, the political, financial and other obligations arising from the Frontex Status Agreement should be discussed publicly with all stakeholders, including representatives of relevant institutions, academia and experts, in order to improve the country’s position on the issue. Finally, after the ratification of the agreement, its implementation needs to be monitored.

Author: Ismail Kamberi, Researcher, European Policy Institute – EPI Skopje