Zaev: The name dispute will be closed in the first half of 2018

Zaev: The name dispute will be closed in the first half of 2018
PM of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev has once again expressed his expectation that the name dispute will be closed in the first half of 2018, in an interview to be published in "Nezavisen" ("Independent Daily"), a newspaper of the Independent Balkan News Agency  Media Group (IBNA)

Excerpts from Zoran Zaev’s interview with Nezavisen/Independent daily

N: You announce an ambitious reform process in the country. How do you plan to do this in a situation when the government begins to show the first signs of instability, mainly in the same way the parliamentary majority is thin and reluctant, and you are forced to collect a quorum even with the MPs from the VMRO-DPMNE coalition?

- The coalition is stable because there is a clear agreement between the coalition partners, based on the reforms and commitment to the citizens’ needs. As long as these are the Government’s priorities, it will be stable and in that case, I believe that there are conditions for these values and goals to be accepted and supported by MPs who have not yet been part of the ruling majority. There will always be different opinions, including smaller political and personnel changes, but there is one clear mission and all capacities are invested in it - we provide a better, peaceful life, as well as life of quality, for all citizens in the country. Together we are building a society that is equal for all, and Macedonia is a free country and free people live in it. If we remain focused on these values, the government will remain stable.

N: Do you expect revitalization of the political dialogue after the change in the helm of VMRO-DPMNE and which issues will be negotiated with the opposition?

- Each government need a healthy, democratic opposition that offers constructive criticism. The opposition needs to continuously monitor our work and point out where we need improvement on daily basis. That would be very helpful for the government, in order to work more and be more committed. In this direction, I expect constructive collaboration with the opposing VMRO-DPMNE, now led by Mr. Hristijan Mickoski. We had a constructive dialogue on our first meeting, although we had different opinions on some of the topics. However, we agreed on one thing – it is necessary for the opposition to participate in the reform processes. In our discussion with Mr. Mickoski, we concluded that Macedonia’s place is in the EU and NATO, and in order to achieve this we need special participation from all political subjects - from the government, as well as from the opposition. I once again call on all MPs from VMRO-DPMNE to actively participate in the work in the Assembly, so we could all decide for the well-being of the country. I am prepared to discuss about all issues and decisions with the opposition, with one main goal – create a better future for Macedonia.

N: What is the basis for the optimism for fast membership in NATO and for getting a date for negotiations with the EU in the middle of next year? What has changed so dramatically over the past six months in terms of meeting the criteria, so what was unthinkable until a year ago is now expected?

- Just eight months after the incident in the Parliament, Macedonia is considered a normal democratic country with cohesion and power in the region, as well as abroad. And we achieved this mostly by renewing the “fading” friendships with the neighboring countries. We signed a Treaty of Friendship, Good-neighborliness and Cooperation with Bulgaria.  After the successful inter-governmental session with Bulgaria, we held a joint session with Albania as well. I recently visited Kosovo, and we are intensely guarding our friendship with Serbia. And finally, we build trust with Greece, which gives us the right to say that Macedonia a friend to all its neighbors. My colleagues from the region and I are aware that only united, as a region of the Western Balkans, and through good-neighborly economic and political cooperation, we can provide progress and contribute to security and development of all countries in the region. One of the joint conclusions of the leaders of the region, and Commissioner Mogherini at the recent meeting in Brussels, is that 2017 is a year of success for the Western Balkans. At that meeting, I reaffirmed Macedonia's commitment to the realization of the reforms in the judiciary, security and public administration, reforms that are part of Plan 3-6-9, which was prepared and consulted with citizens through extensive discussion with experts and civil organizations. The international community recognized it, recognized the inclusive policies and open door policies practiced by the government. And that's why I expect Macedonia to get its place in the EU Enlargement Strategy, which will be published in February 2018.

Ν: Is it possible to make progress on the way to Brussels without a solution to the name issue? Can you expect to solve this problem during your term of office and how will this be achieved?

-I believe that this issue can be closed by the end of the first half of 2018. My optimism is based on the willingness of both sides to be free of prejudice and discuss all issues, and all solutions that will imply the improvement of relations, which are in the interest of the citizens of both countries. And I believe that we will achieve this by fully preserving our dignity. The citizens will reward us more for our bravery and faith in the perspective and the future, rather than for the possible setbacks if we remain stuck in the past.

N:  What is the priority goal of the judiciary reforms? Is it possible to have a realistic reform with the existing staff, or do you remain on the intention of a general re-election of judges?

- We need an independent and efficient judicial system and I accept nothing less than that. If we do not have an independent judiciary, all other projects, reforms, and plans will go down the drain. In that direction, to underline that at the 45th session, the Government adopted a package of draft laws in accordance with Priebe’s recommendations. These include the draft laws on the courts, the execution of sanctions, the public prosecutor's office, the criminal procedure, the draft laws on internal affairs, the police, as well as the monitoring of communications. On this occasion, I will repeat that no one in the judicial system in the country should listen to the parties or the officials of the executive government. I have publicly stated from the pulpit in the Assembly that I will fire any minister or a deputy, if I receive confirmation that they interfered with any court decision or setting - the dismissal of judges. Judicial decisions must be made in accordance with the laws, the Constitution and the judges' own conviction - here is the essential reform of the judiciary. We are obliged to ensure the rule of law and equal access to justice for all, as well as accountability to justice for all who have broken the law.  And, as for all other sectors in the country, I am sure that a serious part of the existing staff are high-quality, honest, professional and appropriately trained.

N: How sincere are you in your intention to reform and rationalize the state administration according to standards and criteria, and not according to the political party? And is this feasible, since you are trying to keep all employees from the previous government, those who were employed outside of the criteria and during the elections?

- We do not want to continue the practice of our predecessors, which means that we are opposed to the practice to dismiss party personnel from the opposition with the arrival of a new political party or to employ personnel exclusively from "our" party. We have to get rid of party constraints and, finally, when it comes to assessment, measuring the quality - it does not matter at all if a citizen is a member or a supporter of a party, even less which party. This is also important because of the reforms that the EU is demanding from Macedonia, but primarily because of the internal conciliation of the political environment in which there was a deep cut between party members of one or the other political option, and those who declared themselves politically neutral. We are building an ambience of a new time in which everyone can freely declare their political affiliation or non-affiliation, and this does not in any way affect their life nor the quality of services that institutions must deliver to citizens. And you yourself said that some of the leadership positions are still filled with people who were previously there. And this is so in more than 30% of the institutions. Why not use existing personnel, if they are professional? The main task of the newly formed Council for Public Administration will be to create an efficient, productive and professional public administration. We must encourage motivation and dedication, and this will be achieved by respecting professionalism and specialty, through career advancement and rewards, through productivity and efficiency of public administration, in order to provide quality services to the citizens of Macedonia. The Council will carefully monitor the implementation of the Strategy for Public Administration Reform in order to provide quality services to the citizens of Macedonia. The Council will closely monitor the implementation of the Strategy for Public Administration Reform, part of Plan 3-6-9./ΙΒΝΑ

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