Mentality and lack of information are the main reasons, according to the citizens, why the country is not a member of the EU
The integration of the Republic of Northern Macedonia in the international structures is not a new process, but a long-term struggle for reforms and promises. The conditions governing our entry into the European Union are constantly restructured, complicating the process, but they also affect the perception and desire of citizens for the country’s integration. The citizens believe that the mentality of our people and the lack of information by the institutions are some of the main reasons why the state can not continue and become part of the international forces.
The discussion “Good Neighborly Relations and EU Integration: Where Are We and Where Are We Moving?” aimed to involve citizens in a debate discussion that will reveal their views on the European integration process and the country’s opportunities. It took place in a format, divided into two parts. The first part of the discussion was left entirely to the participating citizens, who had the opportunity to express their opinion and some additional views to each other. After that, in the second part, the citizens had the opportunity to ask questions for which they have added interest to an expert in that field.
As part of the discussion, in addition to the participants from the East and Southeast region, Malinka Ristevska Jordanova, board member of the European Policy Institute EPI – Skopje, was invited as the expert in the second part of the discussion who directly gave an additional explanation of citizens’ questions. The discussion was moderated by Sonja Stojadinovic.
The participants pointed out that they are not sufficiently informed about the European integration process and how that process will affect them and the state. Due to the lack of quality communication by the institutions who superficially communicate the activities and processes, as well as their selectivity based on what will be published for the public and what not, society loses confidence in their work. There are many sectors where there is significant progress in the process, but they are insufficiently presented to the public. Institutional disorder at the state level differs greatly from European institutions and their functionality. It is also considered that the mentality of the society is not properly prepared to be part of the EU.
Mass partisanship in all sectors is emerging as a major problem. There is partisanship in public institutions, especially in public administration, but it is not left out in the private sector either. According to the participants, there is no minimum consensus or awareness on the issue of partisanship, and greater determination is needed by political entities to set partisanship as a top priority. Also, the citizens themselves should impose more pressure and be loud and clear for the realization of their rights.
Furthermore, regarding the youth, a topic that was widely discussed during the event, it was emphasized that they need to be provided with more opportunities in order to regain the desire to stay in the country. The level of migration amongst young people abroad due to education, economic reasons, but also the partisanship of the country is increasing every year. In order to provide a favourable social atmosphere for the younger generations, it is necessary to make an analysis of the institutions. The analysis will prove which sectors are working, what we are doing right, and locate the shortcomings so that we can overcome them, instead of just promising new opportunities.
In terms of European integration, in addition to the shortcomings at the state level, an additional reason that affects the process is the EU itself. There is Euroscepticism and dissatisfaction due to the fact that the EU is constantly making declarative commitments and additional requirements that need to be met, thus in the whole process the country is relatively little committed to what is needed and a priority for the state itself. The country is ready to make all the reforms required by the EU, but the same effort and response are not reciprocated, so the country needs to maintain its integrity within its priorities in order to continue to meet international priorities. Regarding the good neighbourly relations with Greece and Bulgaria, the citizens’ personal experiences pointed out that there exists cooperation and communication beyond the official documents. Cross-border cities, such as Gevgelija, have economic cooperation with cities in Greece, and before the Bulgarian blockade, for example in the city of Delchevo, had had favourable communication and collaborated on projects with schools in Bulgaria. The participants believe that negative policies should not be affecting the integration processes.
During the discussion with Malinka Ristevska Jordanova, numerous questions were raised about accession negotiations, relations with neighbouring countries, and the country’s progress. It was pointed out that the current problem with Bulgaria was a surprise to many and led to the breach of the agreement and the shaking of trust, which will further affect other sectors of cooperation. EU entry rates are becoming more complicated every year, which is why as a country we must look to improve all fields instead of just the ones we think are important. But despite the shortcomings, we have favourable results that are often overlooked. The EU is making efforts to overcome the blockade imposed by Bulgaria, but the possibility of a compromise is yet to be secured. The country has areas that show great progress and development, as well as areas in which more attention needs to be paid. However, there remains a need for greater commitment, political will, and vigilance to work on the progression in many important areas such as democracy, the rule of law, and the environment.
The event was organized as part of the project “ACT – Active Civic Action 2.0”, implemented by the European Policy Institute – Skopje with the support of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University in the United States. The project is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy from the United States. This discussion, together with 4 other debate debates with citizens on various topics across the country, will contribute to the development of the National Debate Survey that is planned in 2022.