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Second Annual International Conference: NATO, EU and the New Risks: A Southeast Europe Perspective
29-30 October, 2004
Sofia, Bulgaria

Ambassador Michael Sahlin, EU Special Representative in Macedonia

I would say good morning and I would say Günaydýn, because after all it is the Turkish national day! Congratulations! And I would say congratulations also to my friend Ognian Shentov, whom I’ve known before and who was kind enough to invite me to come back here and to address at this time a very dignified audience, including the Minister of Defense from Skopije who just arrived; Hello!. We hear many thoughtful things this morning, concerning the general approach of NATO, of the international community and of the EU as crisis managers and as handlers of the promotion of stability and progress in this region. I would now add to that, and I would try to be brief and not to repeat things, but I will add the perspective of the country where I am the special representative of the European Union, namely a country that was formerly a republic of Yugoslavia and that is now since a number of years an independent state, Macedonia and which is struggling with its history being very complex and with the most recent past that has been rather complex also. The past being one filled with lots of wars, lots of questions of identity arising from those conflicts and that is now aspiring for both EU and NATO membership, and as such heavily supported by those organizations.

The conflict that broke out in 2001, I am speaking slowly by the way as I promised to the organizers. I know something about organizing big conferences because I don’t have a written manuscript, I will, later. The conflict in 2001 broke out therefore in a country that most observers in beforehand had seen as example in the Balkan region of peaceful coexistence in the wider region marked by violet conflicts as we know. Nonetheless, in that country it was seen to be useful just in case to have something called UNPREDEP as seen at the time as one or in fact as the example of successful conflict prevention mission. It lasted not long enough, in my view, but that’s another story. Had one scratched a bit on the surface more ambitiously than was done at the time in view of other conflicts dominating the scene, one might have discovered, however, a country that had the signs of not fully healed ethnic differences, in fact, rather large-scale inter-ethnic discontent, exasperated by a bad economic situation.

The outbreak of the conflict in 2001 sparked an intense effort by the international community feeling that this time one must be acting strongly and early enough to prevent that conflict from becoming a wide, large-scale bloody civil war. That effort culminated in the summer 2001, in August of that year, in the signing of the OHRID Framework Agreement. I wish that the list of participants had fulfilled its promise to having Mr. James Pardew here, because if he had been here, then I would have had the chance to bow in respect to him because what he did together with the representative of the EU then, Francois Lyotard, was really great and a work of lasting value. The aim of these efforts that summer, as you know, was to put en end to the conflict before it grew into a full-fledged civil war and to help ensure that the country’s stability and prosperity become realized. These efforts continue even today, and in fact this is why I am here today. All be it with a different prospective now. It is now not to end hostilities, that is now behind us, “in Shalom”, but to ensure long-term stability and economic development. Let it be clear, I think it is clear, to everyone in this room and everyone else too, not present, that Macedonia’s road to Euro-Atlantic integration and a better future goes through the full implementation of that accord, signed that summer. Nothing less, nothing more, nothing different but that, because it was painstakingly negotiated and is still valid; there is no other way. Those who believe there might be another way, I think are playing it wrong, there is no other way; that is the road to take, there are no shortcuts. This in a sense is a first conclusion from my remarks here: firm international commitment, coherence and engagement are essential to make the international communities’ peace and reconciliation efforts successful. These are essential, indispensable ingredients and that is also, by the way, why both the EU and the US work as “cosignatories?” of that agreement having therefore a special role now, together with NATO and all the concerning cooperation with the authorities of the country to fulfill all the provisions of that agreement. Aiming as I said for Euro-Atlantic integration and progress, and stability.

After the conflict millions of euro have been put into the reconstruction and implementation of that framework agreement and we are still there to pursue these efforts. The EU showed its long term commitment by keeping the position of the EU SR, now me, in place. The EU showing it also by taking over functions that were formerly provided by other organizations. We had the Concordia mission, the first of its kind for the EU and now we have the police mission, Proxima, another interesting innovation in the development of ESDP. In fact, the country I am talking about has a key role in the development of the ESDP in many, many ways, as you pointed out too. So that is not beauty contest as you said; in fact the EU actions in that country, in Macedonia, are NATO friendly and whatever NATO does is EU friendly so that’s not even benign competition, there is full complementarity. A word about the mission Proxima, an innovation in its kind but others are to follow in the development of the ESDP of the European Union. It’s a good example of how a mission in itself can represent the overall transition in the support of the international community and of the EU in this case from open crisis management, military, shuttle diplomacy, military for stabilization, then going civilian, then entering into a next phase of more general aid and especially accession support in various ways the accession being as you said a very powerful incentive to overcome all sorts of hurdles for these countries.

The government of Macedonia has recently invited Proxima to extend its mission for one more year knowing that the functioning of this police mission not being so security relevant in the longer but very much supportive of the processes of reform, police reform and other reforms that are going on and play key role in the development of the country. Therefore, there will be one more year with Proxima and then we will see. It’s rather unusual because ESDP missions are very rarely extended but in this case it was by powerful consensus decision. Then of course in the overall family of instruments of the European Union we have in addition present and actively working in support of the country, where we have the role of the presidency; we have EU MM having a small but chief functioning component in this overall repertoire of the instruments of crisis management and support.

So if you were to ask me right now, I hope you don’t, how long do I think that EU SR office is going to remain in Macedonia, maybe Mr. Buckovksi has an answer to this, I don’t know, my answer would be that probably no more than until summer or so because then the intention after all is that this would be in a transition towards general accession support rather than crisis management. Proxima in what is doing provides example of what the transition means in practical terms. So, what is the point of this protracted, sustained and firm commitment? It is to bridge the gap between direct crisis management, military, civilian and to the rapprochement to European structures and thereby to ensure stability and progress.

The security situation has been remarkably improved during those years of the operation of these area’s activities. Macedonia has not seen a serious security incident in more than a year now, I hope it stays like that, I think it will. Since 2001, there has been steady progress both on the security front and on the political front, political front mainly referring to step-by-step implementation of this framework agreement. You could say, unfortunately, there is one thing missing; that is significant progress on the economic front. A lot could be said about that and a lot could be said about interaction between political stabilization and economic progress but I know that the economy is considered among the highest priorities of the government and rightly so, unavoidably so. One of the reasons, I believe for some lack of significant progress on the economic front is that the framework agreement has still not been fully implemented. Full implementation of the agreement is a condition in many ways that take too long to explore now for economic progress and not as some people might have wanted to believe an obstacle for economic progress, no, these are complementary and mutually reinforcing things.

I would say, after this conflict stage there are three things that have to be done in order to pave the way for the much needed and much asked for economic progress in the country. Of course, first the cessation of hostilities and stabilization of the security situation. This step is taken as I said and it is clearly shown also by the fact that the international community has step-by-step reduced its military operational presence in the country, trusting that there is necessary minimum stability sustainable now. Second, the peace agreement has to be implemented fully. Significant program has been made on the implementation but there are still the last bits and pieces that represent, if you are climbing a mountain or seeking to beat the world record in high jumping, the last centimeters, the really tricky ones normally; so huge efforts will have to be undertaken in order to achieve that. You cannot compare those centimeters with the early ones, so to speak. Third, the important structural reforms of the judiciary, the labor market, public sectors, etc., have to be made in order to create an environment ready for investments, in fact being inviting for investments. This part too has been started but there is still work to be done on this. So, taking these areas of activity together, which is very much overlinked to what EU accession means and what EU accession takes, the handing over recently, in fact on the first of October this year, of the questionnaire by Mr. Prodi visiting Skopije, the questionnaire to be answered and then for the Commission to put its opinion on paper, what would they think in the light of the way the government responded to those three or four thousand questions concerning whether Macedonia is ready or not to become a candidate for membership. So Mr. Prodi’s visit therefore marked a very symbolic step, a turning point; the focus is now increasingly as it should be on reforms related to the economy, EU rapprochement should work as a powerful incentive in the implementation of necessary economic reforms which are good for stability too in this mutually reinforcing way.

There are still hurdles. The Financial Times for one had an article in July called “Example Macedonia,” hailing Macedonia’s efforts to come to terms with its ethnic differences as you could say in many ways Macedonia was hailed in the nineties also, on that occasion less justifiably perhaps. Now, we have a referendum coming up soon, next week, next Sunday, concerning whether to proceed or not on the path; this time I am referring to the decentralization step that is a necessary ingredient in all these accession processes and for decentralization there must be municipal boundaries’ changes and for these there has to be obedience with the double majority principles guiding not only OHRID agreement but also in other ways. I did not intend to elaborate on the question of what is entailed in this major decision on the part of the Macedonian people. Will they say yes in this referendum, will the referendum be successful meaning valid, meaning more than 50 percent participating, and will most of those that vote, vote yes, which by the way is very much likely, then this means that they prefer to retain the former municipal boundaries and with it their whole decentralization package as now painstakingly elaborated and adopted by Parliament so there are huge things at stake next Sunday. I will elaborate on that specific thing no more, I think you are aware of the importance of that date.

My hope of course in my role, professional and personal role, will be that Macedonia will continue on its path forward, forward being defined of course in terms of accession, stabilization and progress, rather than to choose to go somewhere else than forward. Peaceful coexistence, inter-ethnic coexistence is what is asked for of all countries of the European Union including the aspiring candidates. In conclusion, successful crisis-management requires, from an EU perspective, number one, a firm commitment, I am stressing firm and commitment, number two, close partnership with other international actors, no beauty contest, no competitiveness but complimentarity is the essential ingredient, as we heard formerly this morning. In the case of Macedonia, I am referring especially to US-EU cooperation because of this unique role that flew from the OHRID agreement. And then thirdly, a clear prospective for the future that is necessary, there must readiness to receive countries that are fighting and are responding to our demands signified by the rapprochement in this case to the European structures. Thank you!
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