HomeMEDIA RESOURCES20041 October 2004 - PRESS COMMUNIQUE: NATO PARLIAMENTARIANS ASSESS PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES IN MACEDONIA AND KOSOVO
1 October 2004 - PRESS COMMUNIQUE: NATO PARLIAMENTARIANS ASSESS PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES IN MACEDONIA AND KOSOVO
Will Macedonia jeopardise its steady progress towards NATO membership? This was the crucial question at the centre of discussions between NATO PA members, Macedonian political leaders and representatives of the international community gathered in Ohrid for the 57th Rose-Roth seminar, from 25 to 27 September. Macedonian representatives were left in no doubt that the forthcoming referendum on decentralisation could seriously undermine the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement and thereby damage the country's integration in to both NATO and the EU.
Some 140 participants, which included diplomats, journalists, academics and regional civil society representatives, were also briefed on the situation in Kosovo by NATO and UN officials, including Norway's Ambassador to NATO Kai Eide, author of a recent study on Kosovo for the UN Secretary General. Ambassador Eide stressed the urgency of developing a strategy that offered a political perspective and hope for the future. He suggested that the 'standards before status' approach was now "untenable in its present form". It should now be 'standards before and after status' coupled to a more political, less bureaucratic strategy and the transfer of competences and responsibilities to local leaders including the minorities.
The positive developments in South East Europe in general, and in Macedonia in particular were highlighted by most participants, who tended to agree that "outside Kosovo, no part of the Balkans has a serious capacity to jeopardize the regional or continental security", as analyst Marcus Tanner stressed in his opening remarks. International community representatives agreed that Macedonia had made considerable progress in its path toward membership of NATO and also to the European Union. "A mere three years after an armed ethnic conflict", said EU Special Representative Ambassador Michael Sahlin, the country has "become an example in the Western Balkans and showed that ethnic communities can live peacefully together". As a mark of Macedonian progress towards EU membership, it was noted that Commission President, Romano Prodi was due to arrive shortly in Skopje with the Commission questionnaire: the first step towards Accession talks.
Besides implementing reforms that effectively enhance the equitable representation of ethnic minorities, the government in Skopje has achieved remarkable success in reforming its armed forces. The country is building a leaner and more deployable army, as illustrated by Defence Minister Vlado Buchkovski, more appropriate to the threats of today's security environment. The creation of the Adriatic Charter by Macedonia, Albania and Croatia, in which the three countries pursue their goal of NATO membership together was seen as a positive development. A willingness to play a constructive regional role by influencing and helping neighbours would be seen by NATO members as an important contribution to Alliance security.
However, various participants also stressed the domestic challenges that Macedonia faces, notably in the areas of economic growth and the establishment of the rule of law. Structural reforms and foreign as well as domestic investment are needed to reduce the 35% unemployment rate and the wide trade deficit. A reform of the judiciary system appears crucial to allow the government to continue its efforts in fighting organised crime, including human and drug trafficking and money laundering.
But the most serious challenge to Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations appears to be the referendum scheduled for November 7 which would effectively reinstate the 1996 municipal arrangements. A positive outcome would effectively obstruct the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement reforms and jeopardise inter-ethnic relations. Brigadier General Blease, NATO military representative in Skopje, clearly expressed the concerns of all the international community by stating that "if the Framework Agreement is not fully implemented, this country cannot expect to receive an invitation to join NATO within the next few years". This clear message was reiterated by both Ambassador Sahlin and US Ambassador Lawrence Butler. A successful referendum, according to the US diplomat, will in fact reverse all Macedonia's progress "offering a very uncertain future".
If in Macedonia the positive might so far outweigh the negative, the same could not be said of Kosovo. The ethnic clashes of March 2004, which caught the international community by surprise, highlighted a situation of dissatisfaction and frustration because of lack of improvement in key areas such as economy and security.
Nevertheless, the March violence had been a wake up call for all concerned, including the Albanian leadership who realised it was time to get serious.
Many contributors stressed the need for a new strategy, in which, according to Ambassador Eide, “standards implementation takes Kosovo in an orderly way from the present through future status discussions and into a wider regional and European integration process”. Such a strategy could entail a new division of labour among the different international organisations, with a diminishing role for the UN and a more proactive role for the EU. With the end of resolution 1244, many participants agreed, Kosovo will probably be governed from Pristina, with the EU assuming the international lead role. With respect to status, Ambassador Eide outlined several principles: no partition and a respect for existing borders: no ethnic dividing lines; no line of authority from Belgrade; and government from Pristina with the European Union in the leading international role.
The Alliance would still be crucial in providing security in Kosovo and KFOR Commander Lieutenant General Yves de Kermabon indicated that NATO troops will continue to adapt their deployment in Kosovo with an emphasis on flexibility and mobility. In 2005, he said, KFOR will gradually move “to a task force concept dedicated to Kosovo-wide interventions”.