Thursday

23rd Nov 2017

Opinion

Macedonia: the EU's democratic dilemma

  • Hahn (l) with Gruevski: 'Our aim is to help the country get back on its Euro-Atlantic track and reinvigorate its democracy' (Photo: European Commission)

Johannes Hahn, the EU neighbourhood commissioner, will, on Friday (15 January), visit Skopje, facing a dilemma which could determine Europe’s legacy in Macedonia.

Wiretapped conversations, leaked last year by the Macedonian opposition, laid bare the abuses of prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s regime, which has held power for 10 years.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

They testified to: corruption; conflict of interest; blackmail; illicit profiteering; and political interference in the judiciary.

A panel of independent rule-of-law experts, recruited by the European Commission, pointed to overwhelming evidence linking the alleged wrongdoing with senior government and Gruevski party officials.

The commission’s report into the affair also speaks of “manipulation of the voter list, vote buying, voter intimidation, including threats against civil servants and companies, and preventing voters from casting their votes.”

In a functional democracy, the government would have resigned and independent institutions would have brought people to justice.

In Macedonia, opposition parties and ordinary people fought for accountability by organising street protests.

But Gruevski has used his control of media to limit negative publicity.

His party blamed the affair on a plot by an unnamed foreign intelligence service.

It also organised its own street protests, where many loyalists waved the Russian flag, as if to warn the EU that Gruevski could turn away from European integration.

Flawed agreement

The EU played a key role in brokering an accord between the main Macedonian parties in July.

The opposition has stopped releasing wiretap material and returned to parliament.

Hahn’s repeated visits have prompted the appointment of a special prosecutor on the wiretapping revelations and power-sharing deals in important ministries.

But the EU-brokered agreement has two clear flaws.

First: It is designed to dismantle “systemic weaknesses” in the Macedonian state, which give Gruevski’s regime an unfair advantage, ahead of snap elections on 24 April 2016.

But this means trusting alleged criminals at the highest level of government to work, in good faith, on their own demise by creating a level democratic playing field.

Second: The accord binds the process to the April date, whether or not the country is adequately prepared.

Backsliding

The special prosecutor’s office, for one, still isn’t fully functional and faces big challenges.

Pro-Gruevski media have savaged the prosecutor, Katica Janeva. The ruling party has said it “no longer believes in her independence” and has “serious reservations” on the “legality of her actions.”

Media also savaged the EU mediator on the ground, Peter Vanhoutte, when he spoke out on the failure to implement other crucial commitments under the accord.

Most notably, nothing has been done to audit the notoriously mistrusted voters list - a must-have for credible elections.

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based NGO, ranks Macedonia between Tajikistan and Mali in its press freedom index.

But there’s no progress on ensuring more balanced pre-election media coverage or reforms in the media regulator.

If the EU acquiesces to elections going ahead as scheduled in these conditions, it will be complicit in letting people, who face serious allegations of criminal misconduct, get off the hook.

It will perpetuate the crisis and legitimise further erosion of democracy.

Opportunity

Instead, Europe has an opportunity to protect the overarching objective of last July’s political accord - democracy.

By declining to give its blessing to elections, until vital reforms are first put in place, it could help democracy to return to Macedonia and set an example for other elites in the Western Balkan region.

Announcing the agreement last summer, Hahn said: “Let me be crystal clear: The EU has not simply facilitated a short-term stabilising arrangement”.

“Our aim is to help the country get back on its Euro-Atlantic track and reinvigorate its democracy, open society, and governance through elections and sustainable reforms.”

For the sake of the people of Macedonia and for the sake of European democracy, it’s vital that he stands by his words.

Nikola Dimitrov is a fellow of the Hague Institute for Global Justice and a former Macedonian ambassador to the US and the Netherlands

Tens of thousands urge Macedonia PM to go

Tens of thousands of protestors on Sunday called for the resignation of Macedonian leader Gruevski - the biggest demonstration in 24 years of independence.

Macedonia PM resigns, as EU comes to town

Gruevski ends 10-year reign, for now, urging opposition to respect April election date. EU's Hahn to decide if country ready for a fair vote.

EU must put Sudan under microscope at Africa summit

The EU is throwing a lot of money at Sudan to manage migration from the Horn of Africa to Europe - but the upcoming Africa Union-EU summit is a chance to probe Sudan about its own human rights record.

The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik

If, as the EU claims, the Eastern Partnership summit is not a format for conflict resolution, where else will the security issues that hold the region back be resolved?

EU must confront Poland and Hungary

Curtailing NGOs and threatening judicial independence are the hallmarks of developing-world dictators and authoritarian strongmen, not a free and pluralistic European Union.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

News in Brief

  1. Spain sends migrant arrivals to unfinished prison
  2. Iceland prepares for biggest volcano to blow
  3. Greek parliament postpones debate on Saudi arms deal
  4. Family of murdered Malta journalist to sue police
  5. UK to sell RBS bank stake, boosting government coffers
  6. December euro summit still on, Tusk confirms
  7. EU calls for end to Kenya election crisis
  8. Report: Israeli PM invited to meet EU ministers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  2. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  3. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  4. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  6. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  7. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  9. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  10. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  11. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure

Latest News

  1. Germany's Schulz under pressure to enter coalition talks
  2. LuxLeaks trial re-opens debate on whistleblowers' protection
  3. Wilders says Russia is 'no enemy' ahead of Moscow visit
  4. EU must put Sudan under microscope at Africa summit
  5. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya
  6. Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'
  7. Commission warns Italy over high debt level
  8. Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  2. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  3. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  4. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  7. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  9. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  11. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  12. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened