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This paper examines the role of the European Union in the Republic of Macedonia between 1997 and 2011 (updated) by focusing on the political criteria for EU accession. The text utilizes the distinction between the EU as an ‘active player’ in the mediation and conflict resolution in the region, and the EU as a ‘framework’, equipping countries with models of governance and policy options in the accession process. Using this distinction, the paper argues that, although in the common dynamics of accession it is expected that the EU role would progress from the former to the latter, in Macedonia these two roles have been intertwined. In order to demonstrate this argument the paper examines the issues the EU has included in the political criteria for accession and demonstrates the increasing EU involvement in areas of high politics traditionally limited to the domestic sphere. The analysis deals with three distinct periods of EU engagement in Macedonia: the Regional Approach of 1997, the Stabilisation and Association period between 2001 and 2004 and the post-2005 period in which Macedonia is a candidate country for accession. The three periods are marked by important milestones in Macedonia’s EU accession process. The analysis is based on qualitative methodology and relies on process tracing of official documents and secondary information, as well as data obtained through interviews with the elites involved in the EU accession process conducted in 2010 and 2011 (updated).
Political, also known as democratic, conditionality ‘emphasizes respect for and the furtherance of democratic rules, procedures and values’. In practical terms, it includes the Copenhagen political criteria for accession, but also a range of topics concerning the work of the parliament, government, judiciary, anti-corruption policy, protection of human rights and regional cooperation.
Research on the political criteria in the Eastern enlargement has concluded that between 1997 and 2004 the Commission changed its understanding of these conditions, but mostly focused on four issues in its reports: the functioning of the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive and anti-corruption measures. This paper examines the political conditionality stipulated by the EU towards the Republic of Macedonia from the late 1990s until 2011. By studying the political conditions the EU has put forward, it demonstrates the evolution of the EU’s approach in the framework of the regional initiatives at the time: from the launching of the Regional Approach in the late 1990s, to the 2001 Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) and the post-2005 period in which Macedonia has been a candidate country for accession.
In order to unpack the intertwined role of political conditionality, this paper combines concepts from the Europeanization and conditionality literature with insight from studies on the EU role in conflict settlement and resolution. While the analysis is linked to the study of Europeanization of the candidate countries, it focuses on the application of conditionality, emphasizing the context-specific nature of this mechanism. Because of the idiosyncrasies of the Macedonian case, the paper also draws upon a specific strand of Europeanization literature concerned with the role of the EU in bringing about conflict settlement and conflict resolution in divided states, using the distinction between the EU as an ‘active player’ in conflict resolution and as a ‘framework for integration’.
As a country that has been both a front-runner in the EU accession process and a laggard with extensive EU involvement on the ground, Macedonia is an indicative example for studying the involvement of the EU in the Balkans. (1) In regional terms, the country was the first in the region to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and the second (after Croatia) to apply and become an official candidate country for EU accession. However, since 2006, the country’s accession process has slowed down for various reasons, including the name dispute with Greece. To keep the country on track for European accession, the European Commission has come up with various proposals such as the visa liberalization process or the high-level accession dialogue (European Commission 2012). At the same time, the EU, through its Delegation and High Representative, has had a quite specific role as a guarantor of a functioning peace agreement between the two major groups in the country and has deployed its first ever police mission in the region. As a result, Macedonia is a litmus test for evaluating the operation of EU political conditionality.
The paper employs qualitative methodology and relies on extensive use of primary documents and secondary literature. In terms of primary information it uses official EU documents that define the formal political conditions as well as national strategic documents prepared for the European integration process. The secondary literature used deals with the mechanisms of Europeanization and conditionality and the specific conditions of the Western Balkans’ EU accession.
Lastly, for the on-the-ground empirical analysis the chapter uses data from interviews with stakeholders conducted in Brussels and Skopje in late 2010 and early 2011. Qualitative interviewing of the elites involved in the EU accession process has not been common in studies of the Western Balkans, although this method was dominant in the case of the Eastern enlargement. The paper recognizes that ‘the empirical focus on countries with a general membership perspective (and thus favourable conditions of EU impact) introduces uncertainty as to whether the findings also hold for non-candidate countries’.
Nevertheless, as the objective of the chapter is contextual analysis of the role of the EU, the findings are relevant for the study of the Europeanization of the Western Balkan region.
The paper is organized in two major parts. Europeanization and conditionality as concepts are examined in the next part, which adopts a process-based understanding of conditionality, highlighting the role of domestic actors in the study of this mechanism. Moreover, it complements the analysis of conditionality with the distinction between the role of the EU as an active player and a framework for integration as devised by Noutcheva et al. Building upon these theoretical insights, the second part of the paper presents the empirical analysis and tracks the evolution of political conditionality in the case of Macedonia. The empirical analysis is divided into three parts related to the changes in the formal relations between the EU and Macedonia. Starting with the launching of the 1997 Regional Approach, the section moves on to the 2001 signing of the SAA and lastly deals with the post-2005 period. By employing a ‘before and after’ approach between the different specific periods of EU-Macedonia relations, the objective of the chapter is to highlight the evolution and the intertwining role of the EU through its political conditionality.
Europeanization, Conditionality and the EU as an Active Player/a Framework for Integration
Research examining the link between EU accession and the candidate countries has traditionally been framed within Europeanization frameworks. For the purposes of this chapter, Europeanization is understood as ‘domestic adaptation to European regional integration’. The majority of studies dealing with this phenomenon have focused on the conditions under which Europeanization takes place, as well as its impact on policies, polity and actors in the first instance on the EU Member States. The Eastern enlargement of the Union triggered a shift towards research adapting and using this concept on the candidate countries for EU accession. In turn, the analysis of the candidate countries has slowly been established as a separate sub-field of a broader research agenda. While the Europeanization of the Member States is concerned both with the top-down and bottom-up processes, the analysis in the case of candidate countries focuses on the former. As a result, Grabbe underscores the need of an ‘analytical framework similar to that used to analyse the EU, but one that takes into account the particular characteristics that were critically different for CEE’. Transition and democratic consolidation stand at the forefront of the processes which affect the specific form of Europeanization in the candidate countries, and this in turn is linked to the accession negotiations.
Despite the consensus on the potential of using Europeanization as a framework for the analysis of non-member states, at a more general level, the concept has been criticized primarily for its potential for overstretching. Hence, it has been argued that ‘Europeanisation in itself is not a theory, but a phenomenon which a wide range of theoretical approaches have sought to explain’. Specifically in relation to the non-member states, Magen and Morlino criticize the tendency of Europeanization literature towards the homogenization of external influence on domestic reform processes. Furthermore, Hughes et al. consider that a ‘fundamental problem for the concept is that macro-level and policy-level studies are inconclusive about the causal effects of “Europeanisation” and demonstrate the persistence of deep structural divergences across national and policy contexts’. As a result, in reality, the same set of variables may have a different influence on democratization outcomes depending on the kind of outcome being analysed. Due to these outlined critiques, the study of the role of the EU in acceding countries has been framed within the mechanism of conditionality, examined in the following part.
Political conditionality is a mechanism that ‘entails the linking, by a state or international organization, of perceived benefits to another state (such as aid, trade concessions, cooperation agreements, or international organization membership) to the fulfillment of conditions relating to the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic principles’. Whereas the terms democratic and political conditionality are commonly equated, this paper operates with the latter, aiming to underline the importance of political transformation without the unquestioning inclusion of the democratization aspect. In this respect, Anastasakis highlights that ‘EU political conditionality can run counter to democratization, at least in the short term when some of the prescriptions prioritize law and order instead of elections and/or civil society development’. While taking into account these debates, this analysis operates with the term political conditionality as it deals predominantly with the political criteria for EU accession and their impact on the democratic consolidation of the country under examination.
The dominant literature on conditionality is focused on the conditions for success of this mechanism by examining its impact and outcome. Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier have developed three models for the examination of the effectiveness of conditionality: the external incentives model, the social learning model and the lesson drawing model, which were applied in two alternative contexts: democratic and acquis conditionality. For them, conditionality is ‘a bargaining strategy of reinforcement by reward, under which the EU provides external incentives for a target government to comply with its conditions’. They conclude that rule transfer from the EU to the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) and the variation in its effectiveness are best explained by the external incentives model and are linked to the high credibility of EU conditionality and the low domestic costs of rule adoption. These findings are qualified by the context-dependent influence of the EU as an actor, which is evident in the extension of their model to the Western Balkans.
The external incentive model is centred on rule adoption as the outcome of this mechanism and examines conditionality through the logic of an ideal asymmetric relationship between the EU and the candidate countries. However, it does not deal with the changes of conditionality over time that is at the core of the proposed analysis. In response, Hughes, Sasse and Gordon define conditionality ‘by the process of its application rather than by an ideal-type assumed power relationship’ (Hughes et al. 2005: 3). Moreover, they argue that EU conditionality ‘includes not only the formal technical requirements on candidates but also the informal pressures arising from the behaviour and perceptions of actors engaged in the political process’. Hughes et al. distinguish ‘between formal conditionality, which embodies the publicly stated preconditions … of the “Copenhagen criteria” and the … acquis, and informal conditionality, which includes the operational pressures and recommendations applied by actors within the Commission … during their interactions with their CEEC counterparts’. The process-based approaches highlight the potential for increasing politicization of EU political criteria due to their flexible nature and the subjective approach in their evaluation. This is so, because the flexible nature of these criteria reduces the formal conditionality of enlargement, thereby strengthening the informal conditionality, providing the Commission with greater scope for ambiguity in its policy recommendations. In her research on the political criteria, Sasse comes to the following conclusion: ‘[A]n intense and highly visible international involvement in a politicized issue (or one aspect of them) can produce an overlay of contradictory outcomes: a legal change can hide deeper political or societal problems which might, in fact, have become ingrained in the context of the EU’s involvement’ . In light of these theoretical arguments, this chapter examines conditionality as a process, highlighting the changes it undergoes over time, as well as the increasing potential for politicization in the domestic context.
EU as an Active Player/a Framework for Integration
In addition to using the mechanism of conditionality in the post-Yugoslav territory, the EU has been directly involved in the domestic politics of these countries, primarily through negotiating or guaranteeing peace agreements. The variety of roles has been analytically examined by Noutcheva et al. by making a distinction between the EU as ‘an active player’ and ‘a framework’ with respect to post-conflict circumstances. In the first case, the EU is an active player involved in mediation and conflict resolution in the region, which gears the involved parties with short-term strategies and provides them with the external push leading towards conflict settlement. The traditional instruments for accession as a long-term perspective of integration in the EU represent the latter role of ‘EU as a framework’, which offers the possibility of participation in decision making for these countries and equips them with models of governance and policy options. Similarly, Berg and van Meurs distinguish in policy terms between both the active impact of the EU in relation to border policies and conflict management in contrast to its passive dimension, which concerns identities and conditionality. While the EU role as a framework has mainly long-term implications, its function as an active player is intended to have short-term effects on the conflict.
In light of these overlapping roles of the EU, the Europeanization of post conflict societies such as Macedonia has been accompanied by the possibility of a creation of a ‘superficial layer of common institutions and policy coordination mechanisms which would exist for the purpose of satisfying EU requirements, but would not enjoy domestic support’. Similar arguments have been put forward by Chandler, who points that ‘EU member state-building in the Western Balkans is a clear example of the dangers of the liberal peace approach to post-conflict situations’. Chandler further criticizes the extensive role of the EU in the region, arguing that that ‘the externally driven nature of the policy process means that political elites seek to lobby external EU actors rather than engage in domestic constituency-building’ (Chandler 2008). On the other side of the spectrum, O’Brennan considers that the EU is following its normative power approach to enlargement in the region. As a normative power, the EU, according to Manners, should act to extend its norms into the international system. Hence, the extensive and multifaceted role of the EU in the region both as an actor and a framework has further raised concerns over the impact on the democratic consolidation of the countries studied.
On the whole, the examination of the EU in Macedonia necessitates a distinction between the two dimensions of EU involvement as an active player and as a framework within the context of the conditionality mechanism. While the first dimension of the EU involvement is directed towards short- term conflict resolution, as the European accession process advances, a shift of role of the EU toward a framework can be expected. Nevertheless, with increasing involvement of the EU in politicized issues (as political criteria usually are) the outcomes can also trigger increased polarization and ‘unintended consequences’ of conditionality.
Using these insights from the literature, the following part reflects empirically on the role of the EU in the Macedonian context by looking at its involvement through the political conditionality mechanism from 1997 until 2011.
The Regional Approach: Nascent Role of the EU
Macedonia has been subject to EU conditionality since the mid-1990s through various instruments and policy frameworks, ranging from the Union’s foreign policy to the enlargement portfolio. In the late 1990s, the EU introduced the Regional Approach with the purpose of instigating reforms in the political area, such as return of refugees and inter-ethnic reconciliation (EU Council 1997).
Prior to this strategy, every country had established bilateral relations with the Union following their respective recognition by the EC Member States and the establishment of diplomatic relations. (2) The Regional Approach was in fact the first formal EU conditionality for the region. Furthermore, these states were to form a new political category under the heading of the ‘Western Balkans’. As the launching of the Regional Approach took place before the Amsterdam Treaty came into force, the mechanisms for EU foreign policy coordination were still in a nascent phase of development. In this period, as observed by one think-tank analyst in an interview given to the author, Serbia was still under sanctions and the Kosovo conflict was at its peak, so the role of the EU was shaped through an immediate security threats approach.
With the Regional Approach, ‘while refraining from extending the offer of membership, Brussels developed relations with the regional states both on an individual and collective basis. Countries meeting the conditions were to be rewarded with trade concessions, financial assistance, and economic cooperation. In relation to the tailored dimension, the agreements with the countries were devised taking into account their specific state of development. For example, the ‘agreement with Macedonia contains an essential element clause, which is more far-reaching than ordinary clauses. Respect for social rights and maintenance of good neighbour relations are included among the binding conditions’. The latter ‘collective’ dimension was met with different responses at the national level. While ‘countries such as Albania and Macedonia perceived the regional approach as a step backwards in their relations with Brussels, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia saw in this EU undertaking an attempt at reconstituting somehow a version of former Yugoslavia’. In addition to its ‘collective dimension’ at the time of its launching, this initiative was considered deficient since it did not provide the basic incentive of the prospect of membership. Overall, the literature considered the regional approach to be inadequate to bring about stability and prosperity for not having a core perspective or an elaborate strategy, among other reasons.
Despite the critiques of its potential, the Regional Approach remains the first attempt of the EU to introduce formal conditionality in the Western Balkans and produced the first monitoring reports on compliance (EU Council 1997). Between 1997 and 2000 the Directorate for External Relations in the Commission published four reports on the fulfillment of the conditionality related to the Western Balkans, which can be considered as a general introduction to the EU’s approach towards this region. In its first report on Macedonia, the Commission concluded that, while the country globally complied with democratic principles, the need for further progress was evident in relation to independent media, public administration reform, including the judiciary and law enforcement, higher education including for the Albanian minority, and so on (European Commission 1997). In this period, however, the reports of the European Commission were much less detailed than the Progress Reports in the post-2005 period examined below. Their shortcomings have already been noted in the literature in relation to the Eastern enlargement. Pridham argues that the first reports of the European Commission on the candidate countries lack a clear methodology on the political conditionality for objective cross-country comparisons between states, which explains the general assessment that the countries fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria. On the other hand, Kochenov has shown that despite the Commission’s rhetoric concerning the ‘absolute priority and importance of the political criteria, a record low space in the progress reports is reserved for the political criteria analysis’.
In the period studied, Macedonia was not at the top of the EU agenda and, compared to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the role of the EU pre-2000 was insignificant. Macedonia received attention in the early 1990s from scholars of conflict prevention and management looking at the other international organizations, not the EU. Koinova highlights that analysis is missing because the EU had little involvement in Macedonia at the time. Vachudova has questioned why the EU did not use political conditionality in the course of the 1990s since Macedonian governments were open to conditional Western assistance in this period. Stakeholders at the national level have explained this phenomenon against the background that many European representatives, especially the members of the European Parliament, believed that inter-ethnic relations in the country were completely relaxed, although they would later be subject to contestation.
Overall, due to the weak engagement of the EU with Macedonia before 2001, it is difficult to classify its role under the headings explained in the theoretical part. This period, referred to as a ‘pre-historic era’ by my interlocutors, is characterized by the nascent development of the EU as a framework in the regional context and attempts at introducing the principle of conditionality. The approach of the EU in this period highlights the difficulties of employing conditionality without an objective of membership or a regional strategy, which has been confirmed in recent literature on the European Neighbourhood Policy. Building upon the experience of the Regional Approach, in the early 2000s the EU developed the SAA framework for the region, which introduced the perspective of membership examined in the following part.
2001-2004: From an Active Player to a Framework
The launching of the Stabilisation and Association Process followed the largely recognized failure of the Regional Approach in terms of its conditionality dimension. The biggest novelty of the SAP in comparison to its predecessor was the membership perspective for the region, which was confirmed on two occasions, in June and November 2000, at the Feira and Zagreb European Councils (EU Council 2000a, 2000b). The SAP consists of three main instruments supporting the countries from the Western Balkans to advance their development path towards membership: the SAAs, the autonomous trade measures and substantial financial assistance. The SAAs still represent the core formal contractual relationships between the countries of the Western Balkans and the EU. In addition, the SAA also established the main bodies of communication between the EU and the candidate countries: the Stabilisation and Association Council, the Committee and the thematic sub-committees. The SAP thus was based on the principles of the Eastern enlargement while at the same time attempting to address the post-conflict problems of this region. However, institutionally these countries were subject to monitoring by the Directorate General for External Relations. In other words, the region was still not part of the Directorate for Enlargement accession portfolio, which at the time consisted of the Eastern enlargement countries.
The SAP has largely been considered as ‘a shift from an ad hoc “fire-fighting” style of crisis management to a more long-term broadly integrationist approach to the WB [Western Balkan] region’. Macedonia signed the first SAA in the region in peculiar circumstances as the country was in the midst of an armed conflict. The significance of this first agreement has been highlighted as an implicit ‘recognition of the leading role of Macedonia in the process of stabilisation of the whole region’. Against this background, analysts have argued that ‘Macedonia was offered a SAA as a political reward for support given to the West during the Kosovo war’. Moreover, ‘being the first [Agreement] of this category to be concluded, the agreement sets up the precedent to follow’. The SAA provided a framework for bringing the countries closer to the EU and its signing, among other issues, was politically conditioned as well. As a legal document, it does not contain a suspension clause, but linked the provision of assistance under Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation (CARDS) for the priorities set by the Commission, including democratic stabilization, strengthening civil society and the media, protecting minority rights and good governance.
Soon after signing the SAA, the country became subject to the regular monitoring on various aspects of the SAA, which included the political criteria. The Reports on the implementation of the SAA introduced in 2002 and issued until 2004 contain a thorough assessment of the political criteria for accession. Even though the SAA as an agreement does not cover the political criteria, the Commission has assessed the political situation and provided recommendations since 2001 when the Interim Agreement, which covered only trade and trade related measures, entered into force. Moreover, the political situation was regularly discussed in the meetings between the Republic of Macedonia and the EU in the SAA framework. Overall, the SAA reporting mechanisms were channels for stipulating political conditions and monitoring their realization, thereby formalizing political conditionality through the role of the EU as a framework for integration.
In addition to the SAA implementation, the EU involvement in Macedonia has been characterized by the increased activity for the signing and implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) in 2001. During the 2001 crisis, the EU appeared as a key ‘active player’ in the conflict-prevention efforts through its role as a guarantor and even a co-signatory of the Agreement. The OFA, in turn, has become an essential element of EU political conditionality in the country. Whereas the implementation of the Agreement was channeled through domestic institutions, the EU constantly provided external support and at times pressure for its implementation. (4) Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for Common
Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), was directly involved in the OFA negotiations which led to the widely accepted maxim in the national political discourse that the road to Brussels leads through Ohrid. Not surprisingly, the implementation of the OFA has been monitored since 2002 in the Reports on the implementation of the SAA, the Progress Reports, the European Partnerships, as well as the SAA meetings. The linking of the implementation of the OFA to EU accession has mostly been evaluated as positive, since membership of the EU enjoyed high support among the population in this period. (5) In other words, joining the EU gave the elites a common project that transcended ethnic divisions.
In addition to this form of political involvement, following the 2001 crisis, the first EU military peacekeeping mission Concordia was deployed in Macedonia, reinforcing the role of the EU as an active player in conflict prevention. The ensuing EU police mission Proxima was employed in April 2003 and was described by EU officials as ‘an instrument in the cooperation between Macedonia and EU which needs to be used to meet the objective of membership in the Union’ (Solana 2003). National stakeholders underlined that the EU had a major role on the ground with their police missions and as far as major policies were concerned. (6) As another interviewee put it, ‘[t]hrough the involvement on the ground, the EU gained a big stake in Macedonia’s future. In some way it made Macedonia important to the EU almost rather than the other way around’. (7) This role was largely accepted by local elites as well. The president of Macedonia highlighted in a speech that ‘our ambition is full membership in the Union, and I would like to see this mission … as a step in that direction. The more of the EU we have in Macedonia, the more of Macedonia there will be in the EU’.
The high involvement of the EU on the ground has also been reflected in the ‘double hat’ representation of the EU in the country, combining the position of the EU Special Representative of the Council and the Head of the Commission Delegation. According to one analyst, ‘[d]ue to this double hat policy, the political functions of the Council have been performed by the same representative managing issues of EU enlargement, further strengthening the link between the two’. (8) As a result, EU representatives in Macedonia have become intrinsically connected with domestic politics, which is demonstrated in the role they have played in forging consensus between the major political actors in the country.
The very presence of the second hat of a special representative of the Council, which is foremost a political body, indicates that Macedonia is monitored and observed from Brussels in this segment as well. (9) This comprehensive type of EU conditionality has been described in the academic literature as ‘a multidimensional and multi-purpose instrument, geared towards reconciliation, reconstruction and reform’.
The intense on-the-ground involvement of the EU between 2001 and 2004 was also characterized by increased administrative mobilization aimed at obtaining the status of a candidate country for EU membership, thereby facilitating the EU’s role as a framework at the same time. In fact, the SAA implementation was considered by the EU at this time as a condition for the country to apply for membership. In practice, however, this was not the case, because Macedonia applied for membership in 2004, indicating dissatisfaction with the status of a potential candidate. Hence, in 2004, the Government applied for EU membership and received from the Commission the Questionnaire on its membership application. In response, formal administrative structures for EU accession were established and, in fact, Macedonia was considered as a regional front-runner in the EU accession process in this period. A year later, the European Commission delivered a positive opinion on the country’s membership. This opinion was upheld at the European Summit in December 2005, when Macedonia officially became a candidate country for EU accession. Croatia followed a similar path, illustrating that the countries in the region perceived the SAA as a way of deferring membership.
Overall, in this period the EU became a major factor in the country through a combination of its engagement as an active player and as a framework for integration. Its active involvement on the ground was demonstrated through the OFA implementation, as well as the police missions deployed in the country. Rather than providing recommendations and standards, the Commission was at times engaged in assessing the domestic political scene and the relations between the domestic political actors. The literature links this attitude with the role the EU has acquired through the brokering of peace deals in Bosnia and Macedonia especially. At the same time, the country also advanced through the regular mechanisms of EU integration by enabling the functioning of the joint bodies established under the SAA as well as obtaining candidate status. In line with the expectations of the theoretical literature, a weakening of the active role of the EU and facilitation of the framework dimension as a long-term phenomenon is to be expected in the post-2005 period examined later.
1. Though with unconsolidated statehood, Macedonia has not been considered as a minimalist state in the work of Bieber on political conditionality (Bieber 2011).
2. Macedonia established diplomatic relations with the EU on 22 December 1995.
3. Interview with former Vice Prime Minister for EU Affairs, Skopje, 23 December 2010.
4. Interview with former Vice Prime Minister for EU Affairs, Skopje, 23 December 2010.
5. Polls conducted in this period showed a steady support for EU membership ranging between 85 and 90 per cent.
6. Interview with former Vice Prime Minister for EU Affairs, Skopje, 23 December 2010.
7. Interview with think-tank analyst, Brussels, 11 October 2010.
8. Interview with think-tank analyst, Brussels, 11 October 2010.
9. Interview with former Ambassador to the EU, Tetovo, 22 December 2010.