The dispute with Athens remains an obstacle despite success in meeting other criteria.
By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 19/10/11
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski holds a joint press conference with the EU's Aleksandra Cas Granje regarding the latest report. [Tomislav Georgiev/SETimes]
For the third year in a row, the European Commission (EC) has recommended the launch of accession talks with Macedonia. The latest progress report, released on October 12th, again concluded the country is ready to start negotiations.
Whether that actually happens, however, depends on the European Council -- a body that has been unable to reach a consensus due to Greece's objections. Athens refuses to accept its neighbour's constitutional name, claiming it infringes on Greece's heritage and implies a territorial claim.
At the same time, a furor has erupted over the latest report's omission of the adjective "Macedonian", and some critics accuse the EC of deliberately highlighting the country's shortcomings in order to provide a rationale for deferring the talks.
President Gjorge Ivanov immediately sent a protest letter to EC President Jose Manuel Barroso over the omission. "With such gestures, the European Commission can only complicate the already complex nature of this imposed dispute," Ivanov said.
According to former Foreign Minister Slobodan Chashule, it is now clear that Macedonia continues to face an obstacle despite the success of its reform process.
"We already have fulfilled the other criteria," he told SETimes. "Therein lies the Union's hypocrisy. One may ask what we are looking for in a company of hypocrites."
Despite the controversy, some officials see the report as generally favourable.
"Setting aside the omission of the adjective "Macedonian", this year's progress report is fair," said Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Teuta Arifi. "I evaluate it as positive, real and with a message that demands maturity in the approach used for dealing with the serious problem that we have with neighbouring Greece," Arifi told SETimes.
Others, however, say the EC was overly critical, particularly regarding the areas slated for improvement -- the judiciary, public administration, the fight against corruption and freedom of expression.
The part of the report addressing the economy, for example, gives positive marks to Macedonia's macroeconomic stability and monetary policy, but negative marks for the high unemployment and public spending.
"Regarding the criticism about Macedonia is emphasising too much fiscal policy, i.e., financing projects from the budget, all relevant economic institutions, even Nobel Prize winners, say that fiscal policy should lead the political economy," Professor Tome Nenovski told SETimes.
"I agree unemployment is high, but it [omitted that it was] reduced 6% in just a few years in conditions of world economic crisis," Nenovski added.
The report brought a defiant response from Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who suggested that Brussels is not playing fair.
"The new tactic ... to pressure Macedonia on the name issue by claiming we do not do enough reforms and to over-emphasise the weaknesses is wrong and will not bear fruit, but will give the opposite result," Gruevski said in comments to the MIA news agency.
He insisted, however, that Macedonia remains committed to its strategic goals of EU and NATO membership, and to the reform process.
"Even if the reforms do not bring the expected result regarding our NATO and EU entry, they are good for the country, for bettering the citizens' quality of life," he said.