Wouter Plomp: Prespa agreement is not easy task, but its fair compromise
I am aware that accepting the Prespa Agreement is not an easy task and it has not been entered into lightly, neither by this government nor by the Greek as far as I can see. Issues of identity and language matter greatly. But at the end of the day i think it’s a fair compromise and one has to think as well of the benefits it will bring. Final settling of the name issue will release time and energy to focus on issues that will improve the lives of the citizens of Macedonia. First of all, the reform process.”, said ambassador Plomp in a exclusive interview for Inbox7.
author: Teodora Cvetkovska
Wouter Plomp, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Inbox7: Mr. Plomp, first we would like to inform you that the online magazine Inbox 7 that was previously funded by the Netherlands Embassy is now restarting again. According to you, to what extent the Macedonian society needs media that are critically observing the political and social events in the country?
Five years ago, our Embassy decided to provide direct support to the media in line with the Dutch foreign policy principles: freedom of media and freedom of expression. Inbox 7 was one of the 13 media projects that have been financed so far, and I am very glad to hear that you are restarting. Independent, critical media enable well-informed and active citizens – which is crucial for every democracy.
Inbox7: Since you first arrived in Macedonia, has the media environment improved?
Wouter Plomp: My mandate began in 2015, in the peak of the political crisis and just after the signing of the Przino Agreement. I can say that many things have changed since then. I feel that the tensions that were very real in those days, have subsided. At that time state capture was the most used frase, and this year Macedonia is invited to join NATO as its 30th member state.
As for the media, Macedonia has moved from the 117th in 2015 to 109th position on the World Press Freedom Index in 2018, while the Freedom House report changed the status of the country from not free to partly free. Of course i cannot pretend to follow all media with my very poor language knowledge but watching MRTV or Sitel, and reading Nezavisen gives me the impression that various sides of the political debate have the opportunity to present their arguments. So I would say the media environment has improved markedly, but a lot remains to be done. Sustainability is definitely one of the major issues, which is related to ownership structures of media. we therefore decided to focus this year’s regional media conference supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this subject. Journalists, lawyers, media workers and marketing representatives from the region were discussing possible solutions to improve the media climate and their sustainability. Good quality journalism is not a luxury but a necessity of every society.
Inbox7: What do you think of the current condition of media in the Balkan region?
Wouter Plomp: The main issues discussed during the regional conference were media literacy and fighting fake news, self-regulation, safety of journalists and sustainability. With some differences, these are the basic challenges of the media across the Balkans.
However, shared challenges could become shared solutions: increased regional cooperation could lead to a larger market and more powerful position in the societies.
Inbox7: In what ways will the EU integration of Macedonia affect the country and the society?
Wouter Plomp: The Netherlands as Macedonia is a relatively small country that has learned the importance of alliances through the years. Working together with our European partners have definitely made the people in the Netherlands more prosperous. Bigger market, stability, increased mobility and growth are the key benefits of the EU membership, which in the end means higher living standard in every aspect.
That’s why I’m happy that the Government has made very important steps forward. Macedonia has never been closer to NATO membership and starting EU negotiations and finalizing the constitutional changes will bring it even closer. I am aware that accepting the Prespa Agreement is not an easy task and it has not been entered into lightly, neither by this government nor by the Greek as far as I can see. Issues of identity and language matter greatly. But at the end of the day i think it’s a fair compromise and one has to think as well of the benefits it will bring. Final settling of the name issue will release time and energy to focus on issues that will improve the lives of the citizens of Macedonia. First of all, the reform process. But just as important is the implementation of the reforms, and especially the fight against corruption and impunity that must be stepped up. And it cannot be done by the Government alone. Of course the Government has to lead by example. But also the judiciary and the prosecution have to prove their independence and professional standards in their acts, every day. Only in such a way new laws will not be just boxes to be ticked in order to meet the criteria for EU and NATO membership, but the foundations of the rule of law which is the bedrock for democracy and development.