It is clear that achieving a solution to the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia is unlikely this year, which is the main obstacle for the start of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav republic. Greece does not show any symptoms of softening of its position to block the start of the negotiations and in the same time fears are growing that if Macedonia continues its stay in the "pantry", awaiting literally Godot, it is possible unpleasant, both for Macedonia and the EU, scenarios to develop. A fear, expressed during the debates on Macedonia's EU progress last week in the European Parliament.
This is why the European Commission has undertaken a step which practically circumvents the Greek veto and initiates accession talks with Macedonia, which however it calls "accession dialogue". By the way the abbreviation of the official name of the dialogue High Level Accession Dialogue (HLAD), which in Bulgarian means "coolness", is indeed a kind of coolness in the negotiations before they heat up with the start of the actual accession negotiations. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, who launched the dialogue in the afternoon of the same day of the debates in Strasbourg, said that "we have opened a new phase in the European journey of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We have launched the High Level Accession Dialogue. With it we are building a bridge which will lead us to the accession negotiations". In other words, the Commission will prepare the grounds and will practically negotiate until the blockade for the formal procedure is removed.
Why those are indeed negotiations?
In the dialogue there are even specific chapters mentioned, like for example "Technical dialogue will also be started in line with the Commission’s new approach on Chapters 23 and 24 [Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, Justice, Freedom and Security]". The new approach of the Commission was introduced for the first time for Montenegro last year, when as a result of the rich experience from the enlargement in the past years the EU has come to the conclusion that it is better to start negotiations from the most difficult areas first - judiciary and interior.
The topics on which dialogue is starting show unequivocally what the goals are. The conclusions from the first high level meeting in Skopje last week are brief but quite indicative instead. It is pointed out that the purpose of the dialogue is "to inject new dynamism in the EU accession reform process", which has to lead to strengthening confidence and boosting the European perspective of the country. Besides, the dialogue is practically a framework in which all national stakeholders will be involved, including the civil society, for the definition and implementation of the national EU accession reform agenda.
The main goals of the dialogue are:
- "Media: Freedom of Expression and Professional Standards" - this is the most criticised area in the Commission's progress report on Macedonia last year. Concern about the freedom of media was expressed during the debates in the European Parliament too as by the Danish Presidency in relation to the pressure on A1 TV station and several newspapers, so by MEPs. The Commission's expectations are Macedonia to amend its legislation, which currently criminalises defamation, to improve judicial practise and to enhance professional standards. The rules related to media ownership are also expected to be enhanced;
- "Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights" - here it is expected the country to improve efficiency, quality and independence of the judiciary, to enhance anti-corruption measures, as well as to ensure "verifiable" implementation, which means that in this field there will be a kind of special monitoring similar to that being applied post factum on Bulgaria and Romania at the moment. You will hardly be surprised but Macedonia has very similar problems to those in Bulgaria, because the country is also recommended to increase the effectiveness and transparency of management of interception of
communication investigative technique, as well as to improve the inter-community dialogue. It is obvious that, especially in view of the Commission's experience with Bulgaria and Romania, even if Macedonia would achieve an agreement with Greece on its state name, the reform of the judiciary would emerge as a huge challenge unless genuine efforts are invested, not as in the case of Bulgaria - mainly commitments and zero results;
- The third goal is reform of the public administration, which includes improving the management of human resources, creation of a common framework for management of administrative procedures and more decentralisation.
- The fourth theme is in full synchrony with the problems Bulgaria has - electoral reform. Skopje is expected to ensure sufficient level of separation between the state and party; to address the gaps and ambiguities in the Electoral Code, as well as to complete the review of the voters' list;
- The last goal is enhancing market economy. The country has to improve the labour market, education, the business environment.
On the one hand this is good news that the Commission has after all decided to undertake this dialogue and will work in close cooperation with Macedonia, in order to avoid the country hanging about and doing nothing. The bad news is that, although the lessons from the failure of integration of Bulgaria and Romania to be visible, that specificity in expression is still lacking, as well as the direct naming of the problems, which can be seen the latest reports of the Commission under the Control and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria. Brussels has to be aware that Europe's cultural diversity can have negative sides, namely - in our region (the Balkans) we need to be told things directly, and it is also recommended to invest a certain dose of threat in the tone. Probably it is a growth error but in all cases the diplomatic tone does not help.
What is interesting is that Commissioner Fule looked satisfied after his meetings in Skopje on March 15, as he assured: "With Prime minister Gruevski we mean business: if you look at the results of today's dialogue - it is not empty political declaration but a list of concrete conclusions and an annex with targets for different areas". Let's hope this is the case, because it is high time the mantra, that reforms should not be made for the sake of Brussels, must finally be having real meaning. Reforms are made to ensure the development and prosperity of countries. If this is not achieved, then only certain circles of society will prosper, as this is painfully visible in Bulgaria.