28 November 2007 -NATO PA President urges Macedonian lawmakers to 'finish job' [Presidential Visit Report]
"You have come so far, you must not miss this opportunity", José Lello, President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, told representatives of the government and parliament of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during an official visit to Skopje on 26-27 November.
The purpose of the visit was to express the Assembly's support and encouragement for the country's aspirations to join NATO and also to discuss developments within the region. The visit took place against the background of recent criticism by senior Alliance representatives of a lack of progress in several key areas related to governance and civil society. José Lello's message was, therefore, intended as a wake-up call for the government and parliament to carry through the reforms necessary to persuade the 26 NATO allies that the country was ready in all respects to become an Alliance member. Why, he observed, "lose the marathon in the last 100 yards"?
He noted that the country received high marks for its defence reforms and its contributions to Alliance operations. Relations with neighbours were good and Macedonian representatives confirmed that the country was playing a constructive role in the current problem over Kosovo's status. Public support for NATO membership was said to be very high. All parties were united on the issue. Nevertheless, these positive features were offset by the lack of progress in several key areas of governance, notably judicial reforms and the full application of the Ohrid Agreement, and by continuing tensions between the two Albanian parties. These tensions were impeding the parliament's ability to pass the necessary legislation. In his meetings with the leaders of all political parties José Lello stressed the need for them all to work together in order to achieve their common goal.
This tension was particularly unfortunate because it distracted attention from a marked improvement in recent years in relations between the two main ethnic communities in civil society at large.
Several representatives expressed the concern that the unresolved issued of "the name" would be used to obstruct their membership. José Lello said he though it highly unlikely that a bilateral issue would be used to obstruct consensus on a matter of such strategic significance to the whole Alliance.
In his address to parliament he said that the parliament itself should shoulder its responsibilities by energizing the government to carry out reforms and itself passing the appropriate legislation but also by demonstrating that internal differences were being handled in a democratic way.
Responsibility, he said, "lies here". He was confident that if the country showed the determination and commitment it had in the past then it would succeed. "It is in all of our interests that you do so. Only when you and the entire region are fully integrated into the European and Alliance family of nations can we all enjoy full security and stability".