The country was faced with the continuation of the most severe political crisis since 2001. Democracy and rule of law have been constantly challenged, in particular due to state capture affecting the functioning of democratic institutions and key areas of society. The country suffers from a divisive political culture and a lack of capacity for compromise. On 20 July and 31 August 2016, leaders of the four main political parties reached a deal on the implementation of the Pržino Agreement, including by setting 11 December 2016 as the date for early parliamentary elections and declaring their support to the work of the Special Prosecutor. They reiterated also their commitment to implement the ‘Urgent Reform Priorities'.
The inter-ethnic situation remained fragile. The review of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which ended the 2001 conflict and provides the framework for the inter-ethnic relations, still needs to be completed in a transparent and inclusive manner.
Civil society played an important role in supporting democratic processes and ensuring checks and balances. At the same time, civil society organisations continue to express their concerns about the deterioration of the climate in which they operate and the limited government commitment to dialogue, as well as about public attacks by politicians and pro-government media.
The country is moderately prepared with the reform of its public administration. There has been some progress, although limited, over the past year. The implementation of the new legal framework on human resources management started. However, there is insufficient progress in the implementation of the Commission's previous recommendations. Rather than being suspended, temporary contracts continued to be transformed into permanent ones without open competition. Ineffective accountability lines, the use of the public sector as a political instrument, allegations of pressure exerted on public employees and alleged politicisation of administration in an electoral year continue to be of concern. A comprehensive 2017-2022 public administration reformstrategy is belatedly under preparation. Furthermore, the lack of political commitment to deliver on necessary reforms in public financial management led to a significant reduction of EU financial assistance in 2016.
The country's judicial system has some level of preparation. However, the situation has been backsliding since 2014 and achievements of the previous decade's reform process have been undermined by recurrent political interference in the work of the judiciary. The authorities failed to demonstrate necessary political will to address effectively the underlying issues as identified in the ‘Urgent Reform Priorities'. The obstructions faced by the newly established Special Prosecutor have shown the need to address effectively the lack of independence of the judiciary and to prevent selective justice.
Concerning the fight against corruption, the country has some level of preparation. Corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem. The legislative and institutional framework has been developed. However, the structural shortcomings of the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption and political interference in its work have minimised the impact of past efforts. There is still a need to establish a convincing track record, especially on high level corruption cases. In the fight against organised crime, the country has reached some level of preparation. The legislative framework is broadly in line with European standards and strategies have been elaborated. However, the law enforcement capacity to investigate financial crimes and confiscate assets needs to be developed further.
Concerning the protection of human rights, the legislative and institutional framework is largely in line with the European standards. More efforts are needed in practice to ensure the respect of human rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees and migrants. There is also a continuing lack of political will and adequate resources to enable the relevant supervisory and regulatory bodies to fulfil their mandate independently and effectively. The most marginalised categories of the population are still not being accorded full protection. In the area of freedom of expression, the country has some level of preparation. However, freedom of expression and the situation of the media remain a serious challenge in the current political climate.
With regard to regional cooperation, the country generally continues to maintain good relations with other enlargement countries and participated actively in regional initiatives. Steps have been taken to improve good neighbourly relations, including through the recent progress in implementing the confidence-building measures with Greece. The 'name issue' needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency.
The country continued to be affected by the migration crisis. This created a substantial burden on its asylum and migration system. The country continued to cooperate with neighbouring countries and Member States and made efforts to provide shelter and humanitarian supplies, with EU support as well as the support of others. The country should maintain its efforts to ensure effective screening of refugees and migrants and address relevant protection needs. The country should also maintain its efforts to decrease the number of unfounded asylum applications lodged by its nationals in EU Member States.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. Overall, no progress was made towards a functioning market economy during the reporting period. Macroeconomic stability was preserved and the macroeconomic environment strengthened further in 2015. This was supported by major public infrastructure spending and foreign direct investment, although signs of weaknesses were observed in the first quarter of 2016. Despite unemployment remaining high, particularly for youth, it has decreased during the reporting period. Certain vulnerabilities remain, however, such as the low competitiveness of the domestic private sector which is hampered by weak contract enforcement, the large informal economy, and difficult access to finance. The management of public finances did not improve and public debt increased further.
The economy has a moderate level of preparation to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union. Some progress was made to foster innovation and foreign investments and digitalisation is progressing fast. The economy is poorly diversified, however, and manufacturing industry produces mainly low value-added products. The economy continued to suffer from weaknesses in education curricula, low innovation rates and significant investment needs, including in public infrastructure, that make it less competitive.
As regards its ability to assume the obligations of membership, the country is moderately prepared in most areas, including in the areas of competition, transport and energy. Further efforts are needed across the board, in particular in those few areas where the country is at an early stage of preparation, such as freedom of movement of workers. More focus is also needed on administrative capacity and effective implementation.
1999: The EU proposes the new Stabilisation and Association Process for countries of Southeast Europe
June 2000: The European Council states that all Stabilisation and Association Process countries are potential candidates for EU membership
April 2001: Signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the first in the region
June 2003: Thessaloniki Summit: EU perspective for the Western Balkans is confirmed
March 2004: The country applies for EU membership
April 2004: The SAA enters into force
December 2005: The status of candidate country is granted
October 2009: The Commission recommends for the first time the opening of accession negotiations
December 2009: Visa-free travel to the Schengen area for citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
March 2012: High Level Accession Dialogue with the Commission launched
November 2015: The Commission states that it was prepared to extend its recommendation, conditional on the continued implementation of the Pržino agreement and substantial progress in the implementation of the 'Urgent Reform Priorities'.
More information :
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Report: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2016/20161109_report_the_former_yugoslav_republic_of_macedonia.pdf