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Co-rapporteurs in Skopje welcome ratification of the name agreement, call for inclusive processes

“Today, the Macedonian parliament ratified the historical agreement signed on 17 June 2018 by Skopje and Athens on the “name issue”. We commend the goodwill and courageous steps taken by the two Council of Europe member States, whose deal is an invaluable contribution to the stability of the whole region,” said PACE co-rapporteurs Lise Christoffersen (Norway, SOC) and Valeriu Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on a post-monitoring dialogue fact-finding visit to Skopje on 18-20 June 2018.

“This agreement is only the beginning of a long process that could put an end to a 27-year dispute which has hampered the development of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. The name, but also other identity issues addressed in this agreement, have stirred heated and emotional reactions for decades and still remain sensitive for parts of society. It is legitimate that these concerns and opinions be articulated and debated in a free, peaceful and constructive manner – this is what democracy is about. However violence, intimidation and inflammatory rhetoric have no place and must be condemned by all sides. The people should be able to make their own decisions. We thus welcome the announcement that a referendum will be organised this autumn which will give the people a chance to determine the vision they have for the future of their country.

In our discussions with all political party leaders and with the authorities, we underscored the need to ensure, at this crucial moment, inclusive processes. Dialogue with the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE - the only parliamentary party objecting to this agreement - but also with civil society, will be essential to build trust in the process. We were pleased to see the readiness of media, civil society and judicial organisations to contribute actively to the discussions. We also viewed VMRO-DPMNE’s decision to return to parliament this spring as a sign of political responsibility. This decision has enabled the adoption of crucial pieces of legislation that will benefit the whole of the population. At this historic moment, we expect all political parties and all authorities involved in the process to play an active and responsible role to ensure the proper functioning of democratic institutions in line with the constitution, and the proper functioning of the electoral administration, which will allow the referendum to take place in good conditions.

It transpired from our meetings that the signing of the agreement has raised immense hopes of achieving Euro-Atlantic integration - which has been a consensual strategic objective of the country, transcending political parties and ethnic communities. It has also boosted the authorities’ intention to pursue the reforms which have been under way since April 2017, after a two-year political crisis that stalled the democratisation process of the country. Steps taken to reform the judiciary, strengthen media freedom, review the electoral law, reform the intelligence and secret services or prevent and prohibit discrimination are to be welcomed and supported. The reform of the justice system, in particular, should enhance the accountability, transparency and independence of judges - and restore trust. Reflection on the future of the Special Prosecutor’s office, which is currently investigating the illegally wire-taped conversations, should be viewed as further efforts to normalise the system, and put the country back on track towards meeting European standards. This process will be challenging; it will take time. Mindsets will have to change to implement effectively the laws that have recently been adopted. We are confident, however, that political will and continued efforts to restore the rule of law, democracy and human rights will help to re-connect people, and re-connect communities. Social action taken to reach people in need, the Roma and children in institutions are examples of inclusive policies needed by the country. The Council of Europe stands ready to back the country’s democratisation efforts.”

In Skopje, the co-rapporteurs met the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, the President of the Constitutional Court, leaders of political parties, the judicial authorities and the Special Prosecutor, as well as representatives of judges, NGOs, the media and the diplomatic community.