Sunday

14th Aug 2022

Opinion

Balkan enlargement is EU birthday test

  • "The appeal of membership pushes us to adopt reforms and helps us keep the peace" (Photo: ec.europa)

Fifty years ago European visionaries signed the Treaty of Rome setting the foundations for a modern day Europe. Today Europe has 27 members, almost 560 million citizens and it is the biggest market in the world. The economic indicators are convincing. EU average unemployment is down to 7 percent and its cumulative economic growth is at 3 percent.

But in order to compete on the global market, Europe may have to further intensify economic reforms, liberalize its markets and complete the enlargement process.

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Without integrating the Western Balkans, Europe will struggle to manage its out-of area expansion and its global commitments as problems from the region will keep its focus on local issues.

Macedonia is managing its transition well. We are shifting into high gear in order to be ready for EU membership by 2010. This means we plan to fully meet the European standards of a functional democracy and prosperous market economy, capable of taking on the obligations of EU membership. My government has staked everything on this card, which given our geo-strategic and political context, is realistic. There is no alternative future for Macedonia to European membership. Thus, why wait?

Many of my EU colleagues are not convinced by the Macedonia case; others would prefer to deal with EU integration and forget about enlargement for now. Both accounts are off target. Macedonia is getting ready fast, and in some areas, our structures are more up-to date with respect to globalization than the average in the EU. Undertaking bold reforms is the only way - economy is the name of the game.

We must have the ability to sustain economic growth, political stability and social prosperity. Macedonia opted for the "one stop shop" approach to economic development. We simplified and streamlined our procedures so businesses can get registered in three days. We introduced a flat tax of 12 percent for both personal income and profit for 2007. This will fall to 10 percent in 2008. Furthermore, there is no tax for reinvested profits, and we require no start-up capital to open a business.

Our goal is to build the most competitive tax system in Europe, and have the most business-friendly climate in the region. This is why we are also investing in upgrading our infrastructure, including erecting a Wi-Fi network across the whole of Macedonia - we are the first in Europe to introduce this on a national level.

Comprehensive reforms in the field of the judiciary are under way. We are actively harmonizing our legislation with the EU, as well as on strengthening the institutional and administrative capacities to improve the implementation of law and enforcement record. These are fundamental to a modern economy.

Since politics is about managing people's expectations, Macedonian citizens need to feel that their daily lives are about to improve. This will help us stay the course on reforms. Also, foreign investors need to be assured of Macedonia's political stability. The EU membership prospect is the umbrella under which these two realities

converge.

There is much unhealthy scepticism in the region as to the reality of EU membership. Many simply don't believe in it. The status quo champions are arguing that enlargement fatigue is only a pretext to an enlargement pause. While the EU is looking inwards to deal with its own structural issues, it is important that the enlargement perspective stays alive.

This is why the Macedonian case is so interesting. Macedonia is a small country and integrating it into Europe is bound to be relatively easy. By opening up to Macedonia the EU would send a positive signal to the region.

The timing is right. As we approach the decision on the final status of Kosovo the presence of Europe in the region is immensely important- for Kosovo and Serbia, and for the neighbours. The appeal of membership pushes us to adopt reforms and helps us keep the peace.

Giving Macedonia a date to start our membership talks is a win-win for all. The EU internal process is unlikely to be impacted in any way by this decision, and yet, democracy, reforms, and economic progress in the region will win out in the long-run.

The author, Antonio Milososki, is the foreign minister of Macedonia.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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