(2) EU Integration of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


Post-2005: Combining the Roles of an Active Player and a Framework for Integration at an Advanced Stage of the Accession Process 

Having applied for EU membership in 2004 and having obtained the status of candidate country for EU accession in 2005, Macedonia also became subject to EU conditionality through the regular progress reports and the European Partnerships. In fact, in 2005, in its relations with the region the EU introduced these formal instruments used in the previous enlargement, thereby developing its role as a framework for integration. These new instruments of monitoring were accompanied by institutional changes as the transfer of competences for the countries concerned from the Directorate General for External relations to the Directorate General for Enlargement. This change was ‘a symbolic move testifying to the Union’s strong commitment to the countries in question’. This set of reforms illustrates the post-2005 trend of developing the role of the EU in the region as a framework for integration in the long-term perspective. In other words, for the development and stabilization of this role, the Union needed to become a source of alternative solutions, rather than an actor involved in the everyday politics of the candidate countries.

Contrary to these expectations, the latest enlargement with Bulgaria and Romania denoted a shift towards the increasing involvement of the EU in the political criteria of the acceding countries. In these two cases, the EU started moving down the path of high and low politics, areas traditionally regarded as internal to states. In the enlargement of 2004, research has shown that the Commission decided that it was against the logic of the accession process to monitor the political criteria again at the very end of the process. Still, Bulgaria and Romania were subject to both extensive pre- and post-accession monitoring, especially in relation to the political criteria, illustrating an evolution of the Commission’s approach to enlargement. A similar engagement of the EU can be traced in the Western Balkans in general, especially in the case of Macedonia. Vasilev is supportive of this role, stressing that ‘when the country appeared to be straying from the desired course, the EU would move the government into action through formal statements of concern and criticism, coupled with clear guidelines on what they needed to do’.

Thus, the progress reports and the European Partnerships on Macedonia after 2005 still pay increasing attention to the fulfillment of the political criteria. This tendency is especially evident when compared to the progress reports and partnerships in the case of the new Member States before their accession, in terms of quantity and content. For example, the European Partnerships for the candidate countries of the Eastern enlargement traditionally contained fewer than five priorities in the political criteria, whereas in the case of the Western Balkans the partnerships contain approximately 30-50 priorities in the political criteria.

The content and priorities of the partnerships are extremely important, not least because the Partnerships make the Copenhagen criteria legally enforceable since financial assistance from the Union is dependent upon meeting the partnership priorities. Moreover, ‘the Partnerships illustrate the extent to which the EU is seeking to influence the domestic and foreign affairs of membership candidates’.

Two most pronounced areas where the Commission has been directly involved in the political sphere through the political criteria in Macedonia were the conduct of elections and political dialogue. In relation to the former, the 2008 European Partnership contained the following key priority for Macedonia: ‘[To] ensure that all future elections are conducted in accordance with the electoral code and deliver prompt decisions on any election irregularities and impose penalties that will deter further cases’ (EU Council 2008). The activities aimed at fulfilling this criterion are elaborated in the national documents for European integration, indicating also the acceptance of EU’s conditionality in relation to election issues (2008a). In relation to the second element, political dialogue, the 2008 European Partnership puts forward the following priority: ‘[To] promote a constructive and inclusive dialogue, in particular in areas which require consensus between all political parties, in the framework of the democratic institutions’ (EU Council 2008). The rationale behind this condition, commonly referred to as ‘political dialogue’, was linked to the continuous boycott of the work of the Parliament by at least one major party between 2005 and 2007. (10) In fact, the lack of political dialogue was one of the main reasons for delaying the recommendation for starting the accession negotiations. This is clearly singled out in the 2008 Progress Report on Macedonia which states that ‘as regards political dialogue, which is a key priority of the Accession Partnership significant efforts are needed’ (European Commission 2008).

The EU’s insistence on the notion of political dialogue has been met with differing responses in the academic and practitioners’ circles. Vasilev argues that ‘the EU was emphasizing the consensus principle in its rhetoric and feedback’, hence the need for this condition. At the national level, nevertheless, the specific terminology of ‘political dialogue’ was linked to the further strengthening of political parties in the public sphere. The increased role of the parties has already been raised in both the academic and policy literature as one of the key challenges of the transformation process of Macedonia. The lines of separation among the executive, legislative, and judicial bodies become blurred as one political party gains control (after elections) of both the legislature and the executive, which in turn provides an opportunity for partisan changes in the judiciary. As a result, domestic analyses have emphasized that, rather than emphasizing political dialogue, the Commission should insist on ‘policy dialogue’ in Macedonia.

The extensive political conditionality of the EU towards Macedonia is evident not only through the documents, but has been clearly highlighted at several specific events in the post-2005 period. A notable example is the 2006 parliamentary elections, in which the EU Head of Delegation and Special Representative of the Council commented that ‘it would be logical if the Government consisted of the parties that won the most votes’ (Media Mirror 2006). At the national level, the statement was widely interpreted as an attempt by the EU to influence the formation of the government coalition, mostly with respect to the party representing the Albanian community. National stakeholders have singled out this event as an example of ‘direct interference from the EU’ and have generally considered the statement as a disruption of the internal dynamics of the Macedonian political scene.(11) In a similar vein, the position of the EU Special Representative has been considered controversial in itself. The literature has argued that ‘the more advanced the transition process, and the more stable the security situation, the more relevant the role of the Commission and the less central the position of the EU Special Representative’. However, in the case of Macedonia,

this has not been the case. The continuous combination of the two roles resulted  in a situation in which ‘Macedonia is a candidate for EU membership and is being monitored from the Council. Hence, there is a dilemma whether the EU is supporting the country or is intervening with elements of a soft protectorate’. (12)

Hence, the EU is maintaining the features of an active player and a framework for integration although the country is at an advanced point of its accession process at which the political criteria for accession should have been fulfilled. This ongoing hands-on approach has instigated discussions within the EU institutions and at the national level. A related debate is ongoing within the European Commission concerning how long this involvement should last. A high-ranking Commission official pointed that ‘the view of the Commission in general is that we should not perpetuate this policy. In relation to political criteria, a state must be sovereign. We have no business in deciding on directions’.(13) A similar dilemma regarding the role of the Commission is increasingly present at the national level as well. A former Vice Prime Minister for EU affairs in the country stressed that ‘Macedonia has reached a point where the EU needs to take its hand of the saddle. The elites need to reach an agreement by themselves, instead of trying to communicate through an external actor’.(14)

Lastly, the issue that further adds complexity to the role of the EU in terms of evolving to a framework for integration is the dispute between Macedonia and Greece over the constitutional name of the country. (15) This dispute has been directly impeding Macedonia’s accession process since 2009 when the Commission recommended the start of the accession negotiations dependent upon finding a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue. In its reports, the Commission underlines that ‘maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential’ (2009). The recommendation for negotiations has been confirmed every year since, but there is no progress on resolving this issue and therefore, negotiations have not commenced. At the national level, the name issue is considered as an interference with the expected course of conditionality, thereby weakening the credibility of the membership perspective. Since 2009, therefore ‘the EU accession in the case of Macedonia consists of a lot of by-products without the main elements of the process of EU integration’.(16)

The dispute has added complexity to the intertwined roles of the EU in the domestic context and has added a further challenge to the evolution of the EU from an active player to a framework for integration. Commission representatives considered the issue as exogenous to the accession process, but it creates problems because it impedes upon the regular functioning of conditionality.(17) As a result,  both of the roles of the EU as an active player and a framework are being compromised. Specifically with respect to the increasing interference of the EU as an active player in these conditions, national stakeholders have argued that ‘the European representatives have to choose their battles carefully, rather than going into all of them because they will not be able to influence positively’. (18) With the ongoing name issue and without progress in the accession process, ‘the increasing EU involvement in Macedonia has even created underlying resistance results in retreat to nationalism’.(19) As a result, the analysis of the Macedonian case shows that the combination of an increasing involvement in politicized issues largely confirms Sasse’s findings on the potential polarization of deeper ‘societal problems which might, in fact, have become ingrained in the context of the EU’s involvement’.

The analysis of the evolution of political conditionality since the late 1990s has illustrated the intertwined role of the EU as an active player and as a framework of integration through the example of Macedonia. The paper examined the EU political conditionality as part of the Regional Approach of the late 1990s, the SAA process and in the post-2005 period. The intertwined roles of the EU were examined focusing on conditionality as a mechanism of Europeanization in the candidate countries. Supporting arguments for a process-based definition of conditionality encompassing its formal and informal features, the paper also stressed the potential of this mechanism in contributing to societal polarization. Due to the specificities of the post-conflict nature of the Macedonian case, the paper operated with the distinction between the EU as an ‘active player’ in conflict resolution and as a ‘framework for integration’, as developed by Noutcheva et al. As an active player, the EU gears the involved parties with short-term strategies and provides them with the external push leading towards conflict settlement. The traditional instruments for accession, on the other hand, provide for the more long-term perspective of integration of Macedonia in the EU through the role of the EU as a framework.

The empirical analysis was divided into three separate periods: the Regional Approach, the SAA period and the candidate status period post-2005. The paper showed that, prior to 2001, there was weak involvement of the EU in Macedonia in terms of political conditionality. The analysis of the period between 2001 and 2004 illustrated the intertwined roles of the EU as an active player and as a framework for integration. The EU established its position as a significant player on the political landscape in the country with the signing and implementation of the OFA, as well as through its peacekeeping and police mission. At the same time, through its SAA implementation and application for membership, the EU also developed as a framework for integration. The combination of these two roles has continued in the post-2005 period especially in relation to electoral politics, as well as in relations between the major political actors in the country. The continuous involvement of the EU as an ‘active player’ on the domestic scene has nevertheless raised dilemmas among the Commission and at the national level, highlighting that the EU’s involvement as an active player continued and was not a short-term phenomenon.

The paper also demonstrated that the dispute over Macedonia’s constitutional name further complicated the transition of the EU from an active player to a framework in the Macedonian context by questioning the legitimacy of the EU involvement. This status quo has stirred debate in the EU and national spheres, summarized by one of my interlocutors in the following way: ‘Leaving Macedonia out of the enlargement process has had a negative impact on the interethnic relations, so it qualifies any EU success there.’(20) At the end, highlighting the potential for increased polarization and the problems of combining the two roles of the EU, this chapter also demonstrated the unintended impact of EU conditionality. The conclusions of the presented analysis gain importance in light of the enlargement plans the European Commission announced in its 2011 Enlargement Strategy. In October 2011, the Commission pronounced that it will put even more emphasis on the political criteria for EU accession in the case of the Western Balkans. Hence, the first and the last chapter to be opened and closed in the upcoming accession negotiations with any of the countries in the region will be Chapter 23 - Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and Chapter 24 - Justice, Freedom and Security. These two chapters will be continuously monitored based on specific benchmarks and action plans (European Commission 2011). These plans indicate that the Commission intends to further intertwine the roles of the EU as an active player and a framework in the region. As a result, some of the caveats concerning the increasing EU engagement highlighted in this chapter carry regional significance, especially in light of the extensive role of the Commission in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as the regular political stalemates in Albania.

10. In the period 2005–2007, one of the two major parties of the Albanian community with representatives in Parliament (Democratic Party of the Albanians and Democratic Union for Integration) was not participating in the work of this body.



11. Interview with former Vice Prime Minister for EU Affairs, Skopje, 25 December 2010.

12. Interview with former Ambassador to the EU, Tetovo, 22 December 2010.

13 Interview with European Commission official, Brussels, 15 November 2010.

14. Interview with former Vice Prime Minister for EU Affairs, Skopje, 25 December 2010.

15. Greece objects to the constitutional name ‘Republic of Macedonia’ and, as a result, the country joined the UN in 1993 under a provisional name ‘The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Both countries are engaged in UN-mediated talks to find a solution. However, even after a decade the talks have not produced results. For a factual background on the name dispute, see Karajkov (2008).

16. Interview with think-tank director, Skopje, 22 December 2010.

17.  Interview with European Commission official, Brussels, 15 November 2010.

18. Interview with former Vice Prime Minister for EU Affairs, Skopje, 23 December 2010.

19. Interview with think-tank director, Skopje, 22 December 2010.

20. Interview with think tank analyst, Brussels, 5 October 2010.






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