site.btaBy Failing to Finish Reforms, Skopje Does Not Keep Its Part of Deal with EU, Dutch Ambassador Says
The whole obsession with the constitutional amendments in North Macedonia merely deflects attention from the reforms that need to be carried out, the Dutch Ambassador in Skopje Dirk Jan Kop said in an interview on MRT television.
Kop is among the diplomats who have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of reforms in North Macedonia, for which Dutch taxpayers have invested money. In his interview, the Ambassador reacts to comments on allegations that such statements of his interfere in the country's internal politics.
"This is not an internal issue [for North Macedonia], the Netherlands has made a huge stake, and this is our issue as well. It is in my country's interest to support North Macedonia in its progress to the EU, we want this country to be in the EU. But I consider it my duty to see what happens to the large amount of money that we spend here. In my country, citizens work hard to pay their taxes, these taxes are among the highest in the world. When you ask them what do you want to spend your money on, they will answer: on local schools, the local health system, local railway stations, local police, and we should be able to look the citizens in the eye and explain to them why their money is not being spent on local hospitals but is being spent in North Macedonia," Kop pointed out.
He recalled that the recent elections in the Netherlands had been followed by a "rapid rise of parties" in the country that oppose EU enlargement or, if they still favour of enlargement, they believe that this can only happen if certain conditions and criteria are met. According to him, "North Macedonia is playing with fire" and the country should not take support for EU enlargement for granted.
As to the constitutional amendments which the opposition refuses to vote in, Kop pointed out that the condition set in the negotiating framework is that the opening of the negotiating chapters depends on them. After the Dimitar Kovachevski Government took office in North Macedonia and Kiril Petkov's Cabinet in Bulgaria, all that was left of the contentious issues is the inclusion of Bulgarians in the Constitution.
"We are talking about a negotiating framework. When this framework is in place, reforms have to be carried out. The framework is agreed and cannot be changed. And I don't think it's realistic or even possible that what [opposition VMRO-DPMNE party leader Hristijan] Mickoski says will happen: that he will get a better deal after the elections. North Macedonia has the best offer it can get," the Dutch envoy said.
He argued that the time has come for North Macedonia "to shape its future and become the master of its destiny" since in all the years after the break-up of Yugoslavia, when the former Warsaw Pact countries also started the changes from a worse position, some of them are already part of the EU, unlike some of the former Yugoslav republics.
"I am arguing that all along the negotiating framework has not been important for completing the reforms. You could have completed them while the problems with your neighbours were being solved, the reforms could have been finished while the new methodology [for accession negotiations with the EU] was being adopted, the reforms could have been implemented while the process of constitutional changes was going on, and that is why I talked about the "build-up of excuses". Negotiating frameworks in themselves are not important. You have to implement the reforms independently of the negotiating framework. I think that North Macedonia is not keeping its part of the deal: our deal is to admit North Macedonia to the EU, which means that the EU must provide financial and technical support and North Macedonia must complete the reforms. As I said, across Europe taxpayers are starting to ask their governments why we continue to spend money in countries that have not delivered on what they agreed: tackling corruption, upholding democracy, respecting the rule of law... Answering these questions of our taxpayers is getting ever more difficult," Kop said.
In his view, the most urgent thing that needs to be change in North Macedonia is mentality.
"The country should really want to join the EU, it should really tackle corruption. I think it would be good advice for the country to be extremely careful in preserving its pro-reform democracy, protecting freedom of speech, media independence... Without these things, progress is impossible. What else the state should do is up to North Macedonia, it is a sovereign state and it depends on what its priorities are. It says that it wants to join the EU and, therefore, within this framework, it must identify its priorities precisely. The biggest concern for the Netherlands is clearly the rule of law but, after all, it's your country, not ours," Ambassador Kop pointed out.