THE ROAD OF THE PRESPA AGREEMENT
By Aleksandar Krzalovski
With the passing of the need for constitutional changes in the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia last Friday (October 19th), the key milestone seems to have been passed in fulfilling the Macedonian part of the obligations provided for in the Prespa Agreement with Greece. It is very likely that, although it is still not completely certain, the last expression of the Members of Parliament (for the constitutional amendments at the end of the process) will have enough (at least 80) votes to support the changes to the Constitution. This was especially after the exclusion of the VMRO-DPMNE MPs who voted in favour, although some of them, even after that act, emphasized their conditions for support, by adopting additional amendments (identity guarantee, delayed action depending on the course of the accession of Macedonia to the EU, and cancellation of modifications if Greece does not ratify the agreement, forgiveness for April 27th and national reconciliation).
In the next two or three months, until all the stages of discussion and determination of the amendments to the Constitution are completed, there will be enough time and space for the polemics around them and to see how the opposition VMRO-DPMNE will behave in that process, especially the eight MPs who supported the opening of the process of constitutional changes. But the passing of the initial vote is a good time to turn back on the road from the Prespa Agreement up to here, from its signing in June (and a little before) to this crucial vote.
Let’s be reminded that the process of overcoming the differences over the name of our country with Greece has lasted since the accession of Macedonia to the United Nations in 1993, and with lesser or greater intensity it was led by all previous governments under the auspices of the UN mediator Matthew Nimetz. One of the last meetings of the negotiators in that format (at that moment Vasilakis and Naumovski) happened in December last year, when it seemed that we were still far from a solution. The intensity changed with the change in the format of the negotiations with direct meetings of the foreign ministers Dimitrov and Kodzias, as well as the prime ministers Zaev and Tsipras, especially after their meeting in Davos in January. The fact whether this change was good or not is likely to be subject to expert analysis in the coming years (because of the claims that the UN format enabled protection of the weaker party in the negotiations, in this case the Macedonian one), but of course the effect was that it led to the result, i.e. the conclusion of an agreement to overcome the dispute, in June in Nivitsi.
In that process there were intensive meetings of foreign ministers and another meeting of the prime ministers (May, Sofia), and what is important for this analysis is that there were two leadership meetings (with the leading parliamentary parties, including the opposition VMRO- DPMNE, as well as President Gjorgje Ivanov). These meetings were aimed at informing the most relevant political factors on the course of the negotiations and were an attempt to achieve a national consensus. From today’s perspective, it is clear that such a consensus is unfortunately not achieved, although the events of the last (May) leaders’ meeting and the period to the signing of the agreement are still controversial – to what extent were the president of the state and the opposition party informed and what did they give support to or consent for (the two sides still have opposed claims), when the proposal for the name Ilinden Macedonia was in circulation.
In the period of about a month that followed, hurrying to reach deadlines before the EU summit at the end of June and the NATO summit in July, the government reached an agreement, which was immediately welcomed by the international community (especially all political representatives of the EU and NATO that Macedonia strives to join and for which the agreement was made), but also with sharp criticism and rejection of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, which declared it capitulatory, not so much because of the name (Republic of North Macedonia), but for the sake of constitutional changes and the overall (erga omnes) use of the new name. This has resulted in a new polarization of the Macedonian society, which continues even now, including after the vote in the Parliament.
This was also demonstrated in the key event between the signing of the June agreement and Friday’s vote, which was certainly the September 30th referendum. The referendum itself and its result have been analysed in the past few days, but it is good to remember how it got to it, i.e. that there were new leadership meetings in early July, to determine whether it will happen at all, and what would be the referendum question. Unfortunately, there was no consensus here either, and the effect was that VMRO-DPMNE did not opt for a “campaign against”, but postponed the decision by September 10th, and then urged everyone to act according to their own beliefs (to vote for or against or not to vote at all).
At that time, mainly during August and the first days of September, five public opinion surveys were published in relation to the referendum (IRI, IPIS, Rating and two by MCIC, the latter together with Telma TV and IDSCS). Four of them had a prediction for the result, and each of them had a clear advantage of the option “for” (from 41 to 49%) against “against” (between 22% and 35%), but they showed (with the dynamics of creating and publishing surveys) clear spill-over of potential voters “against” in the “boycott” option (e.g. between the two MCIC surveys – from 1st od August to 25th of August, the “against” option decreased from 35% to 8%, while the “boycott” option rose from 12% to 29% which only continued to intensify until the very day of the referendum. Only in the MCIC surveys there was an estimate of turnout and although in both the majority of citizens said that they would vote (66% and 58% respectively) the published estimate of turnout was 46%, i.e. that the achieving of the threshold is uncertain. (The first conclusion in the report of the survey)
It is probably because of such survey results, as well as the failure of the leadership meetings to reach a consensus, including on the issue itself (for example, not to mention EU and NATO in the question itself, which was later shown in the surveys that it does not make a big difference when voters decide), VMRO-DPMNE did not decide to lead a campaign “against”, which in turn would lead to the reaching of census. Was this a mistake? Seen from today’s perspective – probably yes! On the one hand, because the non-reaching of the census did not stop the further process in the Parliament (and through the years we understood that the name dispute is not a legal but a political problem, so the Government continued to solve it as such internally) and on the other – it failed to maintain the homogeneity of the Parliamentary group and to prevent Friday’s passing of vote. But let’s go back to the referendum and the result, in addition to the fact that the census was not reached (37% instead of 50% turnout) and that almost 610,000 citizens voted in favour of the agreement with Greece (91% of those who voted, and 33% of the total number of voters on the electoral list). What did this result show? In my opinion, a few things:
– It’s good that an agreement has finally been reached, so there was something to be discussed and vote for;
– The agreement is not good enough (in spite of the low referendum turnout, in the surveys, the majority of citizens were not satisfied with 7 out of 9 key provisions);
– Nevertheless, despite this, probably the majority of the active voters (it cannot be argued precisely, since between 1 and 1.2 million citizens usually vote) want to see this problem overcome and continue the European integration.
Additionally, the outcome showed that although the referendum question contained the EU and NATO, it cannot be claimed that those who did not vote – are not “for” Macedonia’s integration into these two structures (the surveys again showed an increased support up to 80%).
And finally with respect to the international community, it turned out that Western politicians, driven by the interest in Macedonia’s accession, especially in NATO (which is in our interest too), have largely kept silent or ignored the outcome of the referendum, and the main Western media (BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, …) declared it unsuccessful.
All in all, it is good that this process went through and that we are in the wake of its completion with the constitutional changes and NATO membership (it will take some time for the EU), but it is a pity that oversights/mistakes were made, such as: the non-reaching of a national consensus (maybe a better agreement could be reached, e.g. without erga omnes or without constitutional amendments, which now or any time in the future will probably be impossible); or that VMRO-DPMNE did not opt for a campaign “against” (we would have reached a census and a clear outcome whether the agreement has majority support or not). But the article is about remembering the process and trying to learn from the actions that have taken place and that we cannot change them, and in the eve of the upcoming new challenges and the possible often mentioned and long announced national reconciliation.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Inbox7