Todays Date
June 20, 2019

A few words about a referendum graph

Writes: Aleksandar Krzalovski


We spent this summer talking, discussing, persuading, and even fiercely debating the arguments for the advantages and disadvantages of the Prespa Agreement, so that each of us would make an informed decision at the referendum held on September 30th.

Certainly, everyone with their own views and arguments, and the political parties extremely confronted – the ruling coalition (along with other ethnic Albanian parties) with the conviction that the agreement is the only way forward for Macedonia, while the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE with proclamations of capitulation and self-destruction of the state.


In its arguments in favour of the agreement, the Government relied heavily on the benefits of the EU and NATO, which would be gained upon the acceptance of the agreement, which would unblock our path towards full membership in these international alliances. First of all, it was about economic development and the increased standard of living that would become a reality with our membership. These messages were mainly displayed on the campaign ads “In favour” (more precisely “VOTE FOR EUROPEAN MACEDONIA”), and indeed the EU and NATO also found themselves in the referendum question. On the other hand, the opposition, as well as the movement “I boycott”, which appeared quickly after the announcement of the Prespa Agreement (as a sum of several different protest initiatives) and which filled the space left by the absence of a campaign “Against”, rarely contested the fact that the EU and NATO are and should be our goal, but they thought that the price we pay by accepting such an agreement – is too high.


Similarly, the supporters of the “In favour” campaign published various arguments and proof of the benefits of the EU and NATO in the social media. Therefore, a graph published on Facebook by a friend of mine and former colleague in MCIC, now an internationally active and frequent (Facebook) commentator of the social and political developments in and around Macedonia, caught my eye.


The graph, shown below, was followed by his comment arguing that Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania were at an approximately same level of economic development, as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of around 2000 USD, and now, in 2018, Macedonia is at the level of 5,500 USD, Bulgaria at 8,000 USD, whereas Romania is at 11,000 USD.



With a reminder that Bulgaria and Romania became EU member states on the 1st of January 2007, he noted that the economic benefits of the membership are obvious.

With regard to the data presented in the graph, I fully agree with that conclusion, and the presentation itself convincingly confirms the frequent “mantra” that every country that has become member of the EU and NATO has only improved its economic situation, and thus the wellbeing of its citizens. None of them has so far complained that the membership had set them back economically (except perhaps the British who voted for Brexit, although it was shown, in many cases, that the environments with the highest percentage that voted to leave the EU had, in fact, the biggest financial benefits precisely from the EU funds…but that is another topic).


But what else can we see from the graph?

First, that the GDP per capita in Bulgaria and in Romania was at a similar level on the very day of joining the EU as it is now… the first with over 7,000 USD, and the second with over 10,000 USD. In fact, the great world financial crisis that began exactly in 2007 strongly affected their economies, which caused them to reach the level of 2007 only two years ago, by the end of 2016.

Secondly, the main rise is in the period from 2004 to 2007, when both countries became members of NATO, but were not yet member of the EU. This goes in favour of the theory that there is a greater economic benefit from the NATO membership (even though it is a military alliance) than from the EU membership (which is an alliance based on economic interest), which is explained by the arguments that NATO provides security for companies to invest in member states, especially before they become members of the EU (with an extensive legislation partially restricting business opportunities).

It is interesting to look at and compare the parameters for Macedonia in the same period.

Namely, our line fully follows the trend of the two other countries by 2007, with their growth being more highlighted. In other words, we have also progressed, but not so much as them, which is logical because we were not (and we are not) a NATO member, and we had only received the candidate status for the EU in 2005, but we did not start (and we still have not started) the EU membership negotiations.

In the following period, from 2007 until now, the GDP per capita is in stagnation or with a small growth, but mainly stable, i.e. without major shocks in the economy. The situation is similar in Bulgaria, but with more pronounced changes, while in Romania there are three relatively large drops of 1 to 2 thousand dollars of GDP per capita per year.


All in all, seen as a whole (or macro-economically), what the graph shows is that in Macedonia it’s not as bad as it’s often shown. On the contrary, although it may not have seemed so, we have constantly progressed (including in the “infamous” period of the previous government, with about 1,000 USD in 10 years) and we stand 2,5 times better than in 2000. Of course, this does not diminish the main point of the graph and of my friend – that we would be even better if we were EU and especially NATO members (if we want to be precise, according to the figures in the graph – between 1.45 (Bulgaria) and 2 (Romania) times better). Therefore, the economic benefits of the membership in the EU and NATO are undisputed, but we should not expect too much from it, and even less that it would be very visible in the everyday life.


And all this is stated, as I stressed above – by looking at the overall economy, i.e. economic growth expressed through GDP per capita. How this development reflects on every citizen (both in Macedonia and in other countries), and how each individual feels it – is an additional story. It can be debated that the benefits of this development landed in “a few hands” and most often in the elites in power. But this is certainly not very different in the countries indicated – both in Bulgaria and Romania, throughout this period there were bigger and more frequent protests due to corruption, which led to fall of the governments there and to convictions of two former Prime ministers (Romania).

All this leads me to the main question, that is, the dilemma, which also seems to be the fundamental difference in the ideologies and the actions of the two leading parties in Macedonia throughout this entire transition period, which is: can we make it alone? But it’s already a topic for another article!

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