Europe Day 2023 - Foundation Office North Macedonia
In her welcoming address, Professor Mileva Gjurovska, President of the European Movement of North Macedonia, opened the event by welcoming the attendees and thanking them for the huge attendance at the event. In her address, she emphasized that the European Movement celebrates Europe Day every single day, but dedicates this day especially to the Union. According to her, greater efforts from all stakeholders are necessary to stop the doubts whether North Macedonia will join the European Union, because the citizens’ opinion that the country will never join the EU is rising. As she pointed out, according to Schumann, the main message is to save the peace on the continent, and Europe will only be heard if it speaks with only one voice. “Our region, which is hurt by the Russian-Ukrainian war is also facing other safety difficulties, which shows that the European perspective in the region needs to be made even more secure than it is now”. Professor Gjurovska congratulated Europe Day to everyone present, and wished the panelists a fruitful discussion.
Daniel Braun, the Official representative of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, started his welcoming address with the incentive that everyone stands for the European future of North Macedonia. He said that there are debates and disputes in a democracy, but there are also moments when we need to be unanimous, no matter whether we’re in the position or opposition. “We as a foundation, are trying to send a message regardless of Europe Day, that it’s important for you to be unanimous in matters of national interest. You need to work on this regardless of who is in power, and continuous work is needed. A lot of young people who are well qualified are leaving the country, and it’s important to give to them the perspective that EU provides. I am happy that there will be a youth discussion so that the future can be directly discussed with the young people. It is important to work on the political interest and the willingness to hear the voice of youth, especially from politicians”.
Katerina Jakimovska, who addressed on behalf of the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies, at the very beginning of her opening speech pointed out that the importance of peace and freedom, democracy and rule of law, are the values of the Union and at the same time are common with the values of North Macedonia, and are especially important now that security is threatened by the war in Ukraine. “Our integration and help from the Union are needed now more than ever, and it is necessary to hear the voice of the young people who are the future of this continent” said Jakimovska.
The President of the country, Stevo Pendarovski, in his address referred to the famous mantra of the European Union, which is the fatigue of the enlargement, which is politically unjustified and irresponsible to be used by the political representatives who are paid to work on improving the position and life of the citizens.
“It’s our duty, as politicians, to restore the energy and dynamic of the process, which at least for the countries in the Western Balkans, is moving too slow, and that type of dynamic is more hindering than helpful in terms of the readiness of the candidate countries for accession, and regarding the enthusiasm of this process among the general public. We, the political representatives of the citizens, who have won the trust of the public on pro-European political platforms, should be aware that with every repetition of this mantra don’t only spread defeatism and delaying the process, but also magnifying the effect desired by both the open and the hidden opponents of the project of the United Europe. The only effect of such an attitude is the maintenance of the geo-political vacuum which has already been created. At the same time, aware that the vacuum in politics doesn’t last long, it’s clear that instead of the EU, that vacuum will be filled by actors whose undemocratic and destructive influence creates divisions and conflicts and slows down socioeconomic development. From there, my message to all political actors who even formally support European integration is to stop dealing with the "fatigue" and focus on the process" said Pendarovski.
Andrej Lepavcov, former Ambassador to the European Union opened the panel discussion, who in his role as a moderator greeted everyone, with a special reference to the students who are the future of the county. Lepavcov gave a small introduction to the discussion by explaining that enlargement is a topic that motivates us, but at the same time disturbs us, especially in the context of the previous migrant crisis and the current war in Ukraine. We get the impression that the integration of the Western Balkans is at a dead end, but if we listen to the official statements of Brussels, the accession negotiations are moving forward. The contradiction in these statements reduces citizens’ trust in the Union. After his opening address, he invited the first speaker at the panel discussion, the Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union, David Geer.
Ambassador David Geer began his speech by expressing his great pleasure to be part of such a forum, which restores the idea of the European Union as we know it. "We are living in an unusual time, a time in which the Ukrainian War is transforming the Union, and reinforces the position we already know, both from the EU and from the Western Balkans - that integration is equally necessary for both sides, not based on altruism, but based on strong calculation. The possibility of membership is also an incentive for foreign direct investments, which is necessary for the state, so one of the greatest advantages is the economic one. By joining the Union, your country will become part of the common market, and goods, capital and people will move freely, which will only help the economic growth of the country" added Geer.
The Ambassador of Sweden, Ami Larsson Jain, thanked the organizers for the invitation, and joined the discussion adding that "The answer to today's debate question is positive, because there are benefits for both sides. North Macedonia enjoys great benefits from the relationship with the EU, and when the country joins, the benefits will certainly increase. I want to take a moment to underline the most important thing - that corruption destroys the country, and this is an area that must be given the greatest attention in the work". Ambassador Larson Jain indicated that there is no shortcut to the Union, and work must be done day and night to achieve results. The integration of North Macedonia into the EU is good for both sides. "I am often asked if the integration of North Macedonia by 2030 is possible, and I answer that it depends on the citizens. Before entering the EU, fundamental changes are needed, which will change your country, not the day you enter the Union, but the day you implement the changes".
Monika Zajkova, President of the Liberal Democratic Party and an MP, began her address by explaining how North Macedonia is facing major changes, stressing that the war did not have to happen in order for us to understand the importance of the European Union. "We should not expect that the road to the Union is easy, of course it is bumpy, but we as politicians should do our best to dedicate ourselves to integration. Most of the parties have EU membership as a strategic goal, but they have different views on the way the process should be conducted. We don't have time to procrastinate, we need to focus on what has already been started. As political parties, we cannot give a consensus on the implementation of reforms, but we must agree that the problems have accumulated so much, and if we do not realize that we need to give joint answers and not put obstacles in each other’s way, we will not get reforms" said Zajkova.
Afrim Gashi, President of the political party Alternativa and MP, began his speech by pointing out that the concept of enlargement is now something completely different from the past, as a result of general changes not only in the Union but also in the world. "In the same way, the accession policies are changing, which results in additional problems on the way to Europe for the Balkan states, which already have other problems. The countries of the Western Balkans, even after decades in the waiting room, are still not ready for accession due to bad relations between the Balkan states themselves, and entry is an illusion until these problems stop. Problems can stop only when the six countries engage in a joint dialogue to resolve such issues" Gashi added.
Timco Mucunski, Vice-president of VMRO-DPMNE and Mayor of the Municipality of Aerodrom rounded off the discussion indicating that while listening to the other speakers, he remembered the year 2006 when he graduated, and when he wrote about the European integration, stimulated by 2005 when European integrations had a greater meaning, unlike today. "In 2005, people expected us to enter the Union in 2012 or 2013, and today it is already 2023, and the country is not yet close to joining the Union, but a transformative role still exists, regardless of whether we wait and how long we wait. One of the changes is the visa liberalization, which allowed Macedonian citizens to travel, which is a good way to show the benefits of the Union, and to promote it among our citizens." He ended his speech with referring to the surveys which express society’s disappointment in the reform processes in the country, saying that he is convinced that the majority of citizens are aware that the most important thing is country's entry into EU, which will improve the way of life of both present and future generations.
The event continued with the annual award for European Person of the year for 2022, to the Macedonian author Tomislav Osmanli, who addressed the audience thanking the organizers for the nomination and the award, and adding that the European Union is his political preference, one for which he had been advocating even during the former state.
After the award ceremony, the event continued with the Youth club, which gave the young people a chance for a discussion. The youth club started with an oratory competition with participants of students from different universities in North Macedonia, namely students from the “Ss. Cyril and Methodius University” – Skopje, University “Goce Delchev” - Stip, University "St. Kliment Ohridski" - Bitola, and University of Southeast Europe – Tetovo took part. During the competition, the orators demonstrated their skills, while presenting their views on the topic "Talking to Europe". After the competition ended, the jury committee awarded the first place to Sara Markovska from the Faculty of Law “Iustinianus Primus” at the “Ss. Cyril and Methodius University” – Skopje, the second place to Bozidar Donevski from the Faculty of Law at the University “Goce Delchev” – Stip and the third place to Kristijan Veljanovski from the Faculty of Biotechnical sciences at the University "St. Kliment Ohridski" – Bitola.
After the oratory competition, there was a youth debate titled “Talking to Europe about my European future”, in which young people from high schools and universities presented their views on the topic. The discussion was fruitful, and even exceeded the predicted time, which the participants used to address the problems they’re facing with in the country and to emphasize that their voice should be heard much more by the politicians and the media. They discussed the changes they would like to see in the society, and how the membership in the Union would help with that.
At the end of the event, there was also a EU knowledge quiz with the participation of high school students from the high schools in the City of Skopje, in which students competed in knowledge and speed of answering answers related to the EU. The three who performed best at the quiz were Ivana Sarevska who won first place, Martin Perchinkovski with second place, and Dimitar Georgiev with third place. All awarded students were from Georgi Dimitrov High School.
This year's event dedicated to Europe Day – 9 May, which was attended by more than 200 participants, ended with the EU knowledge quiz and the awarding of prizes.