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North Macedonia's Road to the EU Is Paved with Legislation: A Buzz Interview with Tanja Polenak of the Polenak Law Firm

North Macedonia's Road to the EU Is Paved with Legislation: A Buzz Interview with Tanja Polenak of the Polenak Law Firm

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While the legal landscape in North Macedonia might be somewhat stagnant – due to 2024 being an election year – there are still challenging complexities to the judicial reforms on the table, as well as struggles with consistency and knowledge, according to Polenak Law Firm Partner Tanja Polenak.

“It's an election year in North Macedonia and things are pretty static,” Polenak begins. “North Macedonia continues to face significant challenges in the rule of law. Despite numerous laws passed to align with European standards, there's a gap in their proper enforcement and implementation,” she explains.

Polenak reports there have been certain developments in the judicial system that caused some ripples. “There are issues in the operation of the Judicial Council, and there is a need to oppose any external influence in the justice system, as assessed by the European Commission's latest Report. We faced controversial amendments to the Criminal Code that affected the prosecution of high-profile cases, which is a concern.” In addition, there has been movement towards overall judicial transparency with court decisions now being published online. “Publishing court decisions online, though not a source of law per se, is a positive step towards transparency. However, our work remains complicated due to a lack of consistency and predictability in the rulings,” she posits.

Overall, the North Macedonian legal system still seems to be having some issues with the uncertainty it causes, both for the public and for the business sector. “The prevailing uncertainty undermines the credibility of the judicial system among the population,” Polenak stresses. “The Chambers of Commerce are vocal in their criticism of the status quo, and demand strengthening the rule of law to improve the business environment and willingness of potential clients to engage in due process.” The state of affairs is not made any easier with a noticeable decline in well-trained lawyers. “We're facing a shortage of skilled lawyers, partly due to diminishing law school quality. Additionally, young people are less inclined to pursue legal careers,” she continues. “Many young lawyers are leaving the market for better opportunities elsewhere, some even taking a job in other professions.”

Taking stock of foreign investments in the country, however, Polenak sees an opportunity. “Foreign investors bring a more structured approach, positively impacting the legal processes within companies,” she says. “Their presence has been educational for in-house lawyers, improving legal services when compared to the past.” 

Finally, focusing on specific areas of the legislative landscape, Polenak reports that “employment law, particularly regarding foreigners, is quite challenging. While neighboring countries simplify procedures, North Macedonia lags behind.” According to her, “the new labor legislation draft aims to clarify existing ambiguities, but there are concerns about its effectiveness.” Ultimately, Polenak feels there is a “pressing need for judicial reform, better alignment between institutions, and enhanced training.” Still, she concludes on an optimistic note, saying that she feels that “North Macedonia's potential EU accession will revitalize the legal profession and make it more appealing.”

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