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All Roads Lead to the EU: North Macedonia - Waiting and Hoping

All Roads Lead to the EU: North Macedonia - Waiting and Hoping

North Macedonia
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On June 17, 2018, the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Greece concluded the Prespa Agreement which, according to Pepeljugoski Partner Valentin Pepeljugoski, “resolved the name issue as a historical problem between the countries and was a step forward for North Macedonia to become an EU member.” After Bulgaria opposed the start of accession negotiations in October 2020 and again in June 2021, he says that “the country’s next hopes for EU membership are tied to the EU Summit on December 14, 2021, when a date for the start of negotiations with the EU is expected. The focus in the next period is on preparing the administration for all challenges related to the negotiation process, starting from the screening to the achievement of the final goal.”

“We are now all waiting and hoping for a positive outcome in December,” Lalicic & Boskoski Partner Martin Boskoski confirms, noting that “the European Council summit scheduled for December this year might determine the start of North Macedonia’s process of accession talks for joining the EU. But, in order for this to be resolved, we still need positive vibes coming from Bulgaria.” Boskoski also says the country dodged a bullet in November, with “the current government – more open-minded to negotiate a deal or to push for accession talks than the opposition – having survived a vote of no confidence. But, considering the questionable majority that they have, we remain unsure of the outcome.” According to Trpenoski Managing Partner Natasha Trpenoska-Trencevska, “a realistic timeline for the finalization of North Macedonia’s EU Accession Negotiations is five to seven years after the official start of the negotiations.” Boskoski says the negotiations might drag on much longer than usual, due to the bilateral disagreement with Bulgaria, “and even the greatest optimist should not expect North Macedonia joining the EU before 2030.” Pepeljugoski agrees “it is very difficult to provide any timelines since the process should have been initiated some time ago, however, there is always some new issue arising, which prevents the process of joining the EU.”

Legal Harmonization Wins

Trpenoska-Trencevska says “there is no precise or reliable source for a definitive list of laws that have been harmonized over the last five years,” but she mentions the National Program for Adoption of the Acquis Communautaire (NPAA) – a roadmap for meeting the criteria for membership – with the 2021-2025 NPAA having been adopted by the government on June 29, 2021. It offers “a clear picture for the reforms to be undertaken in the next years, for building and strengthening the administrative structures necessary for acquis implementation, as well as the necessary budget resources.” Pepeljugoski says the NPAA constitutes “an important source of information for the business and economic sector in planning future activities” and represents “an important instrument for transparency.”

He also mentions the EU flag laws, EU harmonized “draft laws which reference the original acts of the EU and include a Declaration of Conformity. When entering the parliamentary procedure, they are marked with the flag of the European Union and are envisaged to be adopted in an abbreviated procedure.”

Boskoski points to the Public Prosecution Law and the Law on Personal Data Protection, “which have been harmonized with EU legislation in 2020.” He mentions that “many laws have been harmonized in the last five years, but the real hurdle remains the practice and interpretation of these laws by Macedonian institutions.”

Still Work to Do

Boskoski says that “at the moment, the process of improvement of the legal framework in the field of indirect and direct taxation, through harmonization with the EU Directives and enhancement of institutional capacities, is ongoing.”

Pepeljugoski adds that the new NPAA includes “a number of national legal acts that are subject to harmonization with EU legislation, for 2021-2025, like: the Law on Administrative Employees; the Law on General Administrative Procedure; the Law on Criminal Procedure; Amendments to the Elections Code; the new Law on Payment Services and Payment Systems; the new Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism; the new Law on Bankruptcy; amendments to the Law on Trade Companies; a new Law on Audit; the Law on Copyright and Related Rights; a new Banking Law; a new Insurance Law; and the new Criminal Code, among others.” He says the NPAA also includes plans for harmonization with EU practices on “financial services, information society and media, transport policy, energy, taxation, social policy and employment, enterprise and industrial policy, judiciary and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security, education and culture, the environment, foreign policy, internal control and more.”

Trpenoska-Trencevska highlights the new Law on Civil Procedure (part of the Strategy for Reform of the Judicial System 2017-2022) as possibly the most important piece of legislation currently being addressed. “This is the result of establishing a stable civil law system by filling in the existing legal gaps in the 2005 version of the law, which did not yield the expected results in terms of speeding up litigation proceedings. The pending law is a result of the need for its harmonization with European standards and modern social trends.”

Willpower

“The decline of support for EU membership, which had been a trend for many years, stopped in 2020,” according to Trpenoska-Trencevska, “with a 4% increase in the population supporting Macedonian EU membership compared to 2019, up to 69%.” Boskoski agrees, saying that “the public and the political parties are looking forward to the country progressing towards the EU – but the latest failure of the EU to deliver on its promises, especially after the Prespa Agreement with Greece that changed the name of the country, resulted in worsening of the public perception at the time.”

To conclude, Boskoski says that “North Macedonia has no other alternatives than the EU. This means that the earlier we find an acceptable solution with Bulgaria the better it is for all citizens of the country. For Trpenoska-Trencevska, it’s “the security aspects of the EU integration process that constitute a significant factor for my support of EU membership.” She’s hopeful that “economic development, unemployment, the quality of life, and public infrastructure would be positively affected by Macedonia’s EU membership.” While “North Macedonia’s path to EU membership has proven to be incredibly hard, containing lots of ups and downs,” Pepeljugoski is confident that “the country has a central strategic position, and is fully focused on the European market and cooperation with European countries. Therefore, the country’s membership in the EU does not mean the EU’s enlargement, but rather its completion.”

This Article was originally published in Issue 8.11 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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