- June 22, 2021
On June 22, 2021, the Aspen Institute Germany hosted an online discussion on the topic “North Macedonia’s Path to the EU – What Comes Next?” with Sabine Stöhr, Director for the EU Financial Framework and EU Policies, German Federal Foreign Office, and Marko Troshanovski, President, Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” – Skopje. The discussion was moderated by Valeska Esch, Deputy Executive Director and Program Director Europe, Aspen Institute Germany.
North Macedonia officially applied for EU membership in 2004 and was granted potential candidate status in 2005. Since 2009, the EU Commission has regularly recommended opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia. Due to a bilateral dispute with Greece over the country’s name, the opening of accession negotiations was blocked until the country was renamed in 2019 as a result of the Prespa Agreement. Hence, in March 2020, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia. The next steps of the accession negotiations would be the adoption of the Negotiating Framework and the first Intergovernmental Conference. However, Bulgaria has now blocked the advancement of the EU accession process at the EU Council meeting this week, due to differing interpretations of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness, and Cooperation between the two countries. The Covid-19 pandemic has also severely affected North Macedonia and the slow delivery of vaccines coming from the EU has further weakened the EU’s role in the country.
The online discussion therefore focused on how to improve the relationship between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, including the need for a roadmap specifying the implementation of the Treaty, and the danger of nationalistic narratives. Regarding North Macedonia’s EU accession talks, the importance of keeping bilateral issues out of negotiations was remarked upon, as well as the role Germany could play as a neutral third party in the dispute. Rising cynicism and apathy in the public regarding the EU and democracy in general since negotiations have once again been blocked and the danger of the deteriorating political climate which creates space for other foreign influences such as Russia or China were also discussed. The importance of rule of law and anticorruption reforms in North Macedonia to increase public trust in the government was emphasized, as well as the need for support from the EU in making the Covid-19 vaccine more widely available in the country.
The entire discussion can be watched here:
For further information, the policy brief by the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” – Skopje on “North Macedonia: Progress in a Void” can be found here: Policy Brief_Institute for Democracy Societas Civilis – Skopje.
The virtual discussion was part of the Aspen Berlin Policy Hub for think tanks from the Western Balkans, a project funded by the Open Society Foundations and the Federal Press Agency.