Interview of British Ambassador Charles Garrett for the online media in Macedonia Faktor.mk
The British Embassy recently warned that there is a threat from terrorism in Macedonia. Is there still such a threat, or is that due to the conflicts caused by the aggressiveness of the radical Islam and does it have branches in Macedonia?
The text you are mentioning is part of the travel advice that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) provides for British citizens travelling abroad. The FCO provides travel advice on all countries in the world and updates it regularly. Among other things, the updates take account of changes in the country and recent or planned events. So, for example, we amended the travel advice on Macedonia to advise Britons travelling or living here about recent protests. The travel advice for all countries includes a section on terrorism which is based on the British Government’s assessment of the risk in a specific country. For Macedonia, our view is that there is a continuing, underlying threat from terrorism, just as there is in other countries in the region. This is general advice about the possibility of terrorist acts being carried out here, rather than advice based on specific knowledge of the presence of terrorists in Macedonia or any specific plans for terrorist attacks.
The new EU leadership froze the enlargement for the next five years. Is there a fatigue for the idea of united Europe and does this mean that Macedonia will wait for the concept of new regional connections as a condition to join the Union?
I would not say that Enlargement has been frozen. It is, however, a realistic assessment that none of the current candidates will be in a position to join the EU within five years. I also would not say that people are tired of the idea of a united Europe. There is still overwhelming support for Enlargement in the EU. It is well understood across the EU that the future of the Western Balkans countries is within the EU. The surest way to guarantee regional stability, democracy and increased prosperity is through membership. It is true that EU member states, like countries across the world, have been through a difficult period of deep recession and other challenges. That has highlighted the need for reform in the EU. But, while reform is likely to address the EU’s needs across a wide range of its operations, it should not – in my view – result in radical change to the Enlargement policy. What is clear, though, is that accession states will need to be seen to be completely ready before joining. And the UK, as a long-standing promoter of the Enlargement policy, will continue to provide strong support to Macedonia in its preparations.
At the last meeting on stabilisation and association EC asked for stability in the inter-ethnic relations, implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, independence of judiciary, improving media situation. There is a crisis with the absence of the opposition from Parliament. How much does the absence of political democratic dialog generate fear for free and critical publicly stated opinion?
There are well-documented issues in these areas in Macedonia and addressing them should be a top priority. Without commenting on each side’s position in the parliamentary crisis, I think it is absolutely clear that the lack of opposition makes proper democratic functioning impossible. New legislation cannot be properly tested. Committees cannot fully examine their issues. Political energy gets channeled away from where it can do most good. The situation undermines public confidence in democratic institutions and thereby attacks public willingness to engage fully and constructively in democratic processes. So political dialogue is definitely very important. Democracies need dialogue to resolve issues, and Macedonia is no exception. Full engagement therefore needs to be resumed as soon as possible, and both sides need to take responsibility.
What are the most critical points that the country needs to be devoted to fulfilling the commitments of the European agenda?
The priority areas that Macedonia must focus on are well documented in the European Commission’s annual progress reports, and their latest assessment will be published later this summer. So the real difficulty is not so much identifying the priorities as developing a strategic approach. The areas for reform are closely inter-related. Reforms of the judicial system, of the administration, or improving freedom of expression, are overlapping. Reform planning therefore needs to take that into account. Another important point is that all reforms must be accompanied by a clear plan for implementation, and a plan for changing the way individuals and institutions work and behave, and then monitoring the change. That is often the greatest challenge.
The last meeting of the UN Mediator Nimetz with the Macedonian and Greek authorities is seen as routine. What is now the content of discussions – only the change of the reference, dispute about the name of Macedonia or also for the sensitivity of the Macedonian identity?
It is not for me, as British Ambassador, to comment, as this is a bilateral issue between Macedonia and Greece. Finding a mutually acceptable solution – which I believe is entirely feasible, by the way – is clearly a top priority. That would unlock the way to Macedonia’s future. The benefits from a solution would be immense – for Macedonia, for Greece, for the Balkans, for the EU. The UK recognises that and therefore supports efforts to resolve this. We also recognise that resolution will take great determination, leadership and flexibility on both sides.
Is there a possibility for more direct involvement of official London, as part of the influential euro-atlantic countries which is now also asked by the Macedonian government? In the Macedonian public there are more requests to ask through the UN through the General Assembly to accept the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia?
This is a bilateral issue for Macedonia and Greece, but the UK takes a close interest because of the immense benefits that would flow from its resolution. I know how difficult and how sensitive this issue is. But, because of that, it is worth keeping our eyes focused on the future benefits. We would encourage both sides in their efforts to show determination, flexibility and leadership, and hope that an early solution can be found. In the meantime, however, it is important for Macedonia to remain focused on the reforms it needs to implement. That way, it can be in a genuinely advanced position when resolution finally comes.
UK is one of the three countries besides US and Germany that warns of the increased unproductive budget spending and accelerated increase of credit indebting of Macedonia as well as non-transparent fiscal policy. On the other hand, foreign investors are being attracted in the economic zones with significant tax alleviation. Is this in accordance with the Union standards?
The world economic crisis showed many examples across the EU and globally where lack of sound economic governance created difficult problems. The UK is therefore firmly behind the EU’s new approach to sound public finance. Under this approach, strong and transparent planning and management of public financing should be the key focus of all accession countries and existing member states. This is self-evidently good for the economy and democracy of individual countries, and good for the EU as a whole. It is regular practice for the UK, when speaking in multilateral financial institutions, to encourage stronger public financial management in countries which are receiving grants and loans. This was the case for Macedonia’s DPL loan and the discussions at IMF Board, during which we emphasised that Macedonia could further strengthen its public financial management. This is in line with our existing work with Macedonia on the ‘Open Government’ agenda, and the assessments set out in the last EU Progress Report.
Macedonian Government proposes creation of free financial zones, which can be used to move or wash/laundry of capital? Could Macedonia turn into a new grey financial zone in Europe?
I have not yet seen detailed plans for these financial zones. Financial services is an important part of the UK economy – the City of London is the world leader in many aspects of the financial services sector – so we naturally have a close interest in such initiatives. I look forward to reading the government’s plans when they are published.
Read the interview in Macedonian at Faktor