Co-rapporteurs commend positive developments in North Macedonia, and await implementation of reforms

Lise Christoffersen (Norway, SOC) and Valeriu Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) commended the authorities of North Macedonia for their commitments to advance reforms, returning from their visit to Skopje on 28-31 May 2019.

“Since our last visit in June 2018, major changes have happened: the country held a referendum and ratified the historical Presba Agreement, solving the “name issue” after 27 years. As a result, North Macedonia was invited to join NATO. The recommendation issued on 29 May 2019 by the European Commission to open accession negotiations to join the EU is another step echoing the aspiration of the vast majority of the population for Euro-Atlantic integration.

Significant reforms have been launched in recent months. The laws on the courts and the judicial council were adopted in line with Venice Commission recommendations. An anti-discrimination law encompassing sexual orientation and gender identity as a ground for discrimination was approved. The institution of the ombudsman was strengthened, as was oversight over police forces. The adoption of a new Law on the intelligence service should address problems arising from the illegal interception of wire-taped conversations, which took place in the past and which drove the country into a deep political crisis.

We now expect these positive developments to be confirmed by the full implementation of the newly adopted laws and by the delivery of tangible results. This could change people’s perception and restore their trust in their institutions, in particular in their justice system.
In this context, we need to underline the constructive attitude of the main opposition party VRMO-DPMNE. Its active participation in parliament is a push factor for the adoption of crucial pieces of legislation that require a two-thirds majority, notably in the field of justice.

Contentious issues still need to be resolved in order to reform the public prosecution office. We hope that all stakeholders will reach an agreement that will ensure the independent and efficient functioning of the prosecution office and enhance its capacity to handle sensitive cases. While political compromises might be necessary fundamental rule of law principles should be respected. It is also important to provide a legal framework to ensure that the Special Prosecution office can operate with the necessary autonomy and independence.

The adoption of the new anti-corruption law led to the setting-up of a new State Commission for the prevention of corruption and conflict of interests through transparent procedures. The activities swiftly launched by the Commission - with a clear political backing and strong media attention - to deal with alleged cases of nepotism and conflict of interests are encouraging signs that institutions have the resources to tackle deeply-rooted habits and practices which have no place in democratic societies. We hope that such developments will set the pace for other independent bodies and have a deterrent effect in the future.

We also note that the media operates in a better environment: the safety of journalists is no longer an issue; the focus is now on financial and other systemic issues. We notably expect the authorities to ensure that the public broadcaster will operate as a high quality and impartial information medium. Hate speech on online media and internet is an issue that should be addressed and monitored by the authorities. Media regulation bodies, such as the Media Ethics council, have an important role to play in this respect.

The promotion of transparent and inclusive legislative processes is to the authorities’ credit, even though some stakeholders have requested to be more involved in the drafting of laws and to be consulted at an earlier stage.

Further attention will need to be paid to inter-ethnic relationships. We welcome the inclusive approach of the newly elected President of the Republic, which could foster social cohesion and reinforce this multiethnic society. The recent adoption of the Law on the Use of Languages, which is currently being examined by the Venice Commission, is an important step forward to further implement the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement, even if the implementation of this Law could be challenging in practice.

We welcome the willingness expressed by the authorities to continue to work with the Council of Europe and to take due account of recommendations issued notably by the Venice Commission and GRECO. The post-monitoring procedure is a tool that allows a reinforced dialogue with the authorities of North Macedonia and that helps to ensure that reforms in line with Council of Europe standards will result in the establishment of sustainable and accountable institutions.

Finally, we commend the efforts of the authorities, of its functioning parliament and of the people of North Macedonia to strengthen the country’s good relations with its neighbours and to contribute to the cohesion of the region. The Council of Europe remains available at all times to assist the authorities in meeting European standards through its expertise and to support both this transition period – which could be a source of inspiration for other Council of Europe member states – and the people’s aspiration for European integration.