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Ristevska Jordanova: Clean records, functional democratic institutions to ensure clean start of negotiations

According to announcements by European diplomats, the draft negotiating framework for North Macedonia should be presented within the next few days by the EU. It will be the first one adopted after the new methodology of negotiations. The draft will be presented to the member states before they finalize the document. The final version will be the EU’s negotiating position.

Skopje, 17 June 2020 (MIA) – According to announcements by European diplomats, the draft negotiating framework for North Macedonia should be presented within the next few days by the EU. It will be the first one adopted after the new methodology of negotiations. The draft will be presented to the member states before they finalize the document. The final version will be the EU’s negotiating position.

Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, as well as the EU Ambassador to North Macedonia, Samuel Žbogar, confirmed on June 12 that the draft would be presented within the next couple of days, which will be a step towards the next negotiations phase.

Malinka Ristevska Jordanova of the European Policy Institute has said that the negotiating frameworks for North Macedonia and Albania are first of its kind after the new methodology, more complex than previous ones. She makes comparisons between the negotiating framework that should be prepared for the country and the experiences of other countries in the region.

“Serbia and Montenegro got accession negotiation dates at the same time with the decision to start the negotiations. In Montenegro’s case, the Council tasked the (European) Commission with preparing the negotiating framework before making a formal decision for the beginning and date of negotiations. Therefore, in June 2012 the decisions were made at the same time, three months before that the Negotiating Framework was adopted, and the first inter-governmental conference was held.

In Serbia’s case, she continues, around six months passed between the decision to start the negotiations and the date – June 2013, to adopting the negotiating framework in December 2013, and the negotiations started in January 2014.

“Serbia and Montenegro drew attention due to other conditions they were supposed to meet – progress in the fight against organized crime and the relations with Kosovo. In the case with Croatia in 2005, the framework adoption process was delayed not because of coordination regarding the Negotiating Framework, but because of other conditions such as issues in cooperation with the Hague Tribunal,” Ristevska Jordanova tells MIA, adding that despite the efforts in Serbia’s case, where its country neighbors tried to impose some conditions, their influence on the negotiating framework was insignificant.

The negotiating framework and implementation of the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria

In terms of the implementation of the treaty with Bulgaria to be included in the Negotiating Framework, Ristevska Jordanova says that the EPI’s recently published paper about the policy of this issue analyzed the Bulgarian demands in great detail, comparing them to the text of the Treaty and the principles of the new enlargement strategy, including possible consequences.

“It can be expected that the Negotiating Framework will entail the implementation of the Friendship Treaty, because the member states have given this Treaty significance, and Bulgaria insists on it. The issue, however, isn’t setting up friendly neighborhood relations as an accession condition, nor the explicit inclusion of the agreements signed with Greece and Bulgaria. The issue lies in Bulgaria’s attitudes and the way it presented them to the EU, with a skewed interpretation of the Agreement, even adding some extreme demands that have no basis in the Agreement.”

She thinks that Bulgaria is using its privileged position as an EU member to impose its own standards on the implementation of the agreement in North Macedonia, which goes against the principles of international law, as well as the goal and essence of the Friendship Treaty.

“What’s even more problematic is that the Bulgarian demands oppose the Prespa Agreement. Alongside this, some of the demands compromise the principles of the cluster of fundamentals, which are related to democratic institutions, judiciary and fundamental rights,” she adds.

“On the other hand, we need to keep in mind that President Stevo Pendarovski has already drawn red lines and said there will be no compromise in terms of identity issues. Even though we will be consulted with, we have no vote in terms of the Negotiating Framework. It’s crucial to know what the Commission’s leading suggestion will be in terms of the Bulgarian demands. The Commission should remain unbiased regarding these demands. It’s crucial to avoid putting the Agreement implementation in Special Chapter 35, titled ‘Other Issues’, which holds special weight. Because of all this, we believe that Bulgaria’s demands could make our road to the EU more difficult, and we are facing a potential veto. It’d be easier if Bulgaria remained isolated in its demands. However, there is a risk for some of the other member countries, which are not enthusiastic about the enlargement, to use this to slow down the enlargement process,” Ristevska Jordanova tells MIA.

Expectations about the first intergovernmental conference in the fall and its impact on North Macedonia elections

Ristevska Jordanova’s answer to the question about whether the deadline mentioned by Macedonian and European diplomats will be met is that it depends on both the process of coordinating the negotiating framework, as well as conditions within the Union itself, which is currently prioritizing several things, such as battling the pandemic, the 7-year budget, and it also depends on the development of events in North Macedonia.

“Germany will be holding the presidency in the next six months, which is a plus. However, I don’t think our expectations should be too high, and we should bid higher with each step we take in the accession process,” she says.

The EU expert points out that everything that will happen in this country, especially the elections, will influence the first intergovernmental conference, i.e. the start of negotiations.

“As long as we maintain clean records, the process will move quickly. First and foremost, clean records mean functional institutions of parliamentary democracy, which is of crucial significance to us,” she stresses.

The preparedness of administrative and technical capacities for negotiations; what chapters will be most difficult

In terms of the administration’s preparedness for negotiations, Ristevska Jordanova says that we have the potential, resources, and experience, but the administrative and technical capacity does not match these factors.

“We lack a clear political leadership, a higher policy coordination capacity, and higher responsibility by the authorities. The existing negotiation coordination model is too complex and must be simplified. Of course, there is a capacity for the technical conducting of the negotiations. We’re missing a clear strategy to adopt EU’s legislation and policies, with what priorities and resources. We have to stop talking about ‘homework’. Yes, the task is largely done at home, but we have to figure out a way to do it.”

Regarding the chapter which is hardest to negotiate, Ristevska Jordanova tells MIA that the cluster on fundamentals will be the hardest one for North Macedonia, where according to the new strategy, the functioning of democratic institutions, the public administration and the economic criteria have been added alongside Chapter 23 “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights” and Chapter 24 “Justice, Freedom, and Safety”. It also includes three existing chapters.

“The newly added areas ‘democratic institutions’ and ‘public administration’, for which there are no solid rules, will be a challenge to the EU, because there are European standards, but no recipe to attain them. Macedonia will have to show great capacity in these areas specifically. Why wouldn’t we create it, given that we’ve been a member of the Council of Europe since 1995, where most of the standards in these areas are created? Let’s not even talk about the bigger picture, like the UN etc. We can’t afford to go backwards, like we did in chapters 23 and 24, especially given that we were leaders in the region according to these chapters up until the visa liberalization in 2009,” Ristevska Jordanova says.

She says that Chapter 27, “Environment” is technically very difficult. Chapter 12, “Food Safety” is where Macedonia is ahead of other countries in the region, and it’s something to be taken advantage of, according to the expert.

“Chapter 7, ‘Intellectual Property’ may be a problem due to open issues with Greece. Chapters 25 and 26, ‘Science and Research’ and ‘Education and Culture’ are easy at a glance, but if Bulgaria sets up special conditions, as it’s announced in its Framework position, they will prove difficult,” Ristevska Jordanova states.

In conclusion she says, there is a long, hard road ahead.

“We should arm ourselves with resilience, patience, wisdom, and knowledge to be able to walk it, all the while keeping our national interests in mind.”

Neda Dimova Prokić

Translator: Dragana Knežević

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