Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Macedonia spending more for less

Despite being ranked amongst the top-10 reformers in the World Bank's "Doing Business" report in 2008 and 2009, not many investors appear convinced that Macedonia is the "New Business Heaven in Europe" that the government campaign suggests.

Data shows that Macedonia still fails to attract enough foreign direct investment (FDI) to justify the amount of effort and investment that's being put into attracting global investor interest. While some neighbouring countries are receiving more than €1bn in FDI annually, Macedonia appears to be actually spending more money in trying to attract investment than the amount it receives in the form of FDI.

Macedonia's aggressive campaign in the past four years has certainly helped the country put itself on the investment map, but being on it hasn't brought anything more than the average level of FDI per year that it had before the start of the campaign. With total foreign investment amounting to €181m in 2009 and with only €49m in the first three months of 2010, it's no wonder the government's recent activities are becoming a cause of concern for policy experts as well as the political opposition.

Experts argue there is a clear gap between the money spent on attracting investors and the money received from foreign investors. Vanco Uzunov, economy professor at the Law Faculty in Skopje, suggests that the money spent on attracting investors is clearly not bringing results. "The government wastes too much money on the process of attracting and preparing for foreign investors. There are numerous ways how to use this money more efficiently and more productively, for building infrastructure for instance," Uzunov says.

Empty parks

Many argue the government needs to reconsider and adapt its strategy to the real conditions. For example, many doubt the large amounts of money going into technological industrial development zones is being spent wisely.

In the absence of official information, unofficial sources claim the government has invested more than €20m in these development zones. At the end of June, government officials promoted the country's fourth development zone in Tetovo, even though the first and oldest one near Skopje called Bunardzik 1 still has only two residents - the US automotive giant Johnson Controls and the UK's Johnson Matthey. Also the long-awaited investment in a joint venture factory from China's Heier and South Korea's Triview, due to be build in Bunardzik 1, failed to kick off within the predicted timeframe of the end of June. "It would be better if the authorities declared the whole territory of the country as a free zone," Professor Uzunov notes wryly.

For its part, the government claims these development zones are part of a longer-term strategy to meet investor needs. "We expect that the global economic crisis will slowly decrease and that the investments will come, so we have to prepare for that. We don't won't to be in a situation in which investments will fail because we don't have the prepared infrastructure," Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said at the opening of the Bunardzik 2 zone in April, responding to criticism of the government's investment in infrastructure in these development zones.

Another major criticism centres on the lack of concrete results from the country's economic promoters, whose number is constantly increasing as the government spends, but whose efficacy is clearly lacking. Macedonia currently has economic promoters in more than 30 locations around the world, but according to official data their work has resulted in only two investments so far. Even the State Audit Office questioned the spending of nearly €600,000 in 2008 on these promoters in their audit report of the agency in charge of foreign investments. According to data from the report, the promoters contacted 11,245 companies, out of which only 118 decided to visit the country to see for themselves if Macedonia is truly the new business heaven in Europe.

While the global economic crisis is definitely having its own impact on global investment, the country's lack of progress in joining the EU and Nato due to the unresolved name issue with Greece and internal factors seem to be more to blame, because other countries in the region are having more problems with the crisis but are still attracting far more investment than Macedonia. In 2009, Croatia soaked up €1.87bn in foreign investment, tiny Montenegro got €910m and even the ethnically-tense Bosnia-Herzegovina managed to rack up €452m.

In the World Bank's recently published "Investing Across Borders" report, Macedonia is ranked in the top-10 countries for the least number of days needed for foreigners to open a company (just eight days), but the country's bureaucracy, dodgy legal system and poor infrastructure remain huge obstacles for FDI.

125 HIV cases in Macedonia

One hundred twenty-five HIV positive persons were registered in Macedonia, 50 percent of them were registered in the last six years. The worrying fact is that the country has seen continuous growth in the spread of HIV.

Unofficially, last year for the treatment of 25 HIV positive people were donated 30,000 euros from the Global Fund, said Elizabeta Boskovska of the citizens association "Hera" at today's press conference, which was prepared for the government and signed by 12 citizens' associations.

The aim of the statement which listed future actions and recommendations was made for the government to intensifying its fight against HIV and bring about universal access, care and treatment for HIV infected patients

"The Macedonian government and all relevant factors should work hard to increase public awareness of human rights associated with HIV," said Boskovska.

Constitutional name more important than EU, NATO accession: polls

Preserving the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia turns to be more important for citizens than country’s accession in the EU and NATO, state the results of a poll conducted by the Macedonian European Affairs Directorate, the online edition of Greek Naftemporikireports.

66.5% of the respondents have backed the constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia, while 26.2% think that the accession in the European-Atlantic structures is more important.
There is serious difference in the answers mainly depending on the ethnic origin of the people inquired. 

For instance, 82.1% of the Slavomacedonians think the name is more important that the EU and NATO, while 77.8% of the Albanians point at the integration in the two organizations, Naftemporiki informs.

The poll was conducted as a phone survey on July 3-4 among 1,100 people.

Macedonian PM Gruevski meets Croatian President Josipovic

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and visiting Croatian President Ivo Josipovic expressed satisfaction Monday with Skopje-Zagreb bilateral relations and cooperation.

Gruevski extended gratitude for Croatia's continuous support of Macedonia's efforts for swift NATO and EU membership.

Croatian experience with the EU accession talks is rather significant for Macedonia, which expects same methodology of membership negotiations and thus great assistance from Croatia, Gruevski said.

Despite Greece's obstructions, Macedonian Government has been working hard on the society's modernization and meeting the EU membership standards, Gruevski said, reaffirming his Cabinet commitment to finding mutually acceptable solution to the name row imposed by Greece within the UN-sponsored process.

Gruevski and Josipovic also expressed satisfaction with the economic cooperation between the two countries, saying that there is a room for further bolstering.

They agreed that Macedonian-Croatian friendship should keep developing, considering their mutual commitment to the region's stability, prosperity and EU, NATO integration. Source; Governement

Macedonia parliament approves revised budget

Macedonia's parliament on Wednesday approved a revised budget, cutting revenues and spending in order to keep the public deficit at 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The revised budget includes a 3.1 percent spending cut while revenues are predicted to be down 3.3 percent, Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski said.

The revision of the budget was aimed at "preserving fiscal stability during the crisis ... as well as social stability," said Stavreski, who is also a deputy prime minister.

Macedonia's economy shrank 0.7 percent last year but the country emerged from recession in the last quarter of 2009, the government said in March.

Greek citizens travel to Macedonia, Bulgaria for gasoline, cigarettes....

Hundreds of Greeks travel daily across the border to neighboring Bulgaria and Macedonia to obtain gasoline, cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and many other products at lower prices, reads Greek daily "Agelioforos".

The successive increase of excise tax and VAT in Greece has opened the price range on these products, leading consumers and professionals from many border areas (Kilkis, Serres, Drama, Evros, etc.) to focus on markets in Bulgaria and Macedonia, not only to obtain gasoline and supermarket items, and even to buy cigarettes and drinks.

The price difference of unleaded gas between Greece and Bulgaria reaches 40 cents per liter or up to 20 euros for the whole tank.

Cigarettes in Macedonia are 50% cheaper, with a box costing 16 euros compared to 38 in Greece.

Alcoholic beverages differences are smaller and do not exceed 5-6 euros per bottle, but it is enough to drive professionals on the other side of the border to buy whiskey, vodka, etc.

Losses to the Greek state are huge, as only three stations in Svilengrad, 5 km from the Greek-Bulgarian border, last weekend formed queues of cars from Greece putting 150,000 liters of unleaded gas, with losses for the Greek state funds in excess of 150,000 euros, reads the newspaper.

Macedonia to use Latvian experience with EU, NATO integration processes

Macedonian, Latvian Presidents Gjorge Ivanov and Valdis Zatlers discussed Wednesday in Skopje on sharing the experiences with EU, NATO integration processes and further bolstering of the overall cooperation, in particular the economic one.

- Opening of the EU entry talks is Macedonia's top priority, as it is a cohesive system for a society like Macedonia, Ivanov said at a joint press conference with his Latvian counterpart.

Macedonia and Latvia should bolster the cooperation, in particular the trade exchange, which is now at symbolic level, Ivanov said. To that effect the two Presidents initiated an organization of a business forum and setting of a legal frame.

Today, the Ministries of Defense of both countries signed a cooperation agreement, covering the defense and security policy, democratic control of armed forces, protection, exchange of information on joint initiatives within the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), training of civil, military personnel...

Latvia will share its EU, NATO experience with Macedonia, including the country's mistakes in the course of the integration processes, Zatlers said, expressing his support for Macedonia's accession to the European, Euro-Atlantic institutions.

- You should contribute to this goal on daily basis. Sometimes you will make some sacrifices in favor of a compromise or consensus. If we look at EU we will see that sometimes decisions are being made for a very long period because many countries should reach a consensus. But a decision made on such basis is genuinely solid, Zatlers said.

Latvia has been considering the Western Balkan countries as part of Europe, he added.

I know of no other country to express such high support for the EU membership, Ivanov said in regard to a recent poll commissioned by the Secretariat for European Affairs (SEA), which shows decline of citizens' enthusiasm for joining the European family.

It will not be good if there are no Euro-sceptics, said Zatlers, who is paying his first visit to Macedonia. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Katarina Ivanovska – J Crew Swimwear & Bikini Photoshoot

Katarina Ivanovska (Macedonian: Катарина Ивановска}; born 18 August 1988 in Skopje, SR Macedonia is a Macedonian model. She began her modeling career in 2004, appearing at Milan Fashion Week after winning the Look Models International model search in Macedonia. In December, 2004, she appeared in a pictorial for Elle magazine and has also appeared in Citizen K, Stiletto and the Italian and Russian Vogue. She has been featured on the covers of Diva and Maxima magazines and in advertisements for D&G in 2006. She is considered the most successful Macedonian model.

Date of birth: August 18, 1988 (1988-08-18) (age 21)
Place of birth: Skopje, SR Macedonia, SFR Yugoslavia
Height: 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Hair color: dark brown
Eye color: hazel
Measurements: 85-60-89

EU to extend Erwan Fouere’s mandate with 6 months

The EU will extend the mandate of its special representative to Macedonia Erwar Fouere with other six months until the European External Action Service (EEAS), which will develop common diplomatic network, starts functioning, Macedonian Vreme daily informs.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton has confirmed the news recently, while a couple of days ago the European Parliament has passed a declaration which envisages for the EU to have a common diplomacy in the future, which will protect the interests of all member states. 

Ashton determined the decision as a historic step in Union’s development.

The EU mission in Skopje declared it has not received official information about whether Fouere will stay in Macedonia after August, when his term in office expires.

“I really don’t know. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said no because my four-year term in office expires. But I am still here and I am happy about it,” Fouere said.

Record 170-meter wooden sculpture of an eel placed on Macedonia's Ohrid lake

A 170-meter- (186-yard-) long wooden sculpture of an eel has been secured with anchors in Macedonia's Ohrid Lake in an effort to win the Guinness record for longest wooden sculpture ever placed in water.

The installation was created by sculptor Sergei Cingulovski, who joined 50 wooden panels together. The sculpture, made of Canadian poplar, weighs 2.5 tons.

The sculptor said Sunday that he worked nine months on the sculpture.

The sculpture will be officially measured Monday, Cingulovski said. The official unveiling will take place Monday, at the opening of the 50th Ohrid Summer Festival, Macedonia's premier cultural event.

Macedonian parliament speaker survives no confidence vote

Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanoski survived a no confidence vote Saturday (July 10th) with 68 lawmakers backing him and 14 opposed, after marathon debates. The motion was filed by the main opposition party SDSM over a July 1st incident at the parliament building. The SDSM accuses the police of spying on their activities after a police agent tried to record their conversation with a group of disgruntled workers. That led to verbal exchanges, pushing and shoving. The SDSM accused Veljanoski of failing to defend the institution and of preventing the establishment of an inquiry committee to investigate the incident.

Macedonia to invest 17 Mil. Euros for Faster Trains

Loan of EUR 17,500,000 will be used for improvement of railroad infrastructure of Corridor 10. The money has been provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and construction work is expected to start next year.

Four sections Tabanovce-Kumanovo, Miravci-Smokvica, Zgropolac-Negotin will be renovated by 2013. The investment should speed up the railroad traffic. Mile Janakieski, Macedonian transport minister says that Corridor 10 is of great importance for Macedonia because 90 percent of goods are transported by trains.

Moreover, Corridor 8 is still waiting for better recovery conditions to be established, the same goes for replacement of old trains. However, more than EUR 400 million have to be obtained first.

Macedonia Wants Share in NPP Belene

Reportedly, Skopje has been probing for opportunities to get a minority stake in Bulgaria's NPP Belene. Macedonia is the second Balkan country to show interest in the project after Serbia, but it has not announced its intentions, yet. A few countries in the Balkan region have shown interest in the construction of Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant. It's good if our neighbors join in, as they will provide part of the funds necessary to build the plan, as well as potential markets for the electricity that it will generate," MPs told the Standart. 

On Friday Serbia's President Boris Tadic arrives on an official visit to Bulgaria. One of the main topics he will discuss with his Bulgarian counterpart, Boyko Borissov will be Belgrade's possible participation in Belene project. Serbia's possible participation as an investor in the project has been rumoured for about two months. Such an option has been defined as very beneficial for the Serbian side by both politicians and scientists because it would provide Serbia with electricity for dozens of years ahead purchased from an EU member state.

Meanwhile Bulgaria's Minister of Energy and Economy, Traycho Traykov stated there was not a hundred percent certainty on Belene NPP construction being carried out. If the project is abandoned, Bulgaria will avail of the opportunity to build new units in Kozloduy NPP.

50th Ohrid Summer Festival opens

Opening ceremony of the 50th Ohrid Summer Festival will be held Monday evening in the Antique Theatre with a concert of Russian National Orchestra and Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski conducted by Mikhail Pletnev.

The concert as maestro Pletnev announced will include pieces by the great Russian composers - Fourth Symphony of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and great concert of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

- Simon Trpceski is part of the new generation of artists who will represent the classical art with dignity in the future. Today there is a lack of great artists, but I hope that coming generations will raise the level of classical music, the conductor Pletnev said.

Pletnev said he was amazed by the beauties of Ohrid, its cultural heritage and history.

Jubilee festival’s edition will offer numerous performances of domestic and foreign artists, ensembles, soloists, chamber structures, theatre and ballet plays.

Up to August 20, visitors will see 25 concerts, 13 theatre plays, one ballet performance and one opera gala-concert.

The music section is comprised of tours by world-renowned names, such as violinist Julian Rachlin, pianists Peter Laul, Nikolai Lugansky, Ramzi Yassa and Denis Matsuev, as well as numerous artists from Switzerland, Serbia, Russia, Austria, Albania, Slovenia, Germany, Egypt, Hungary and Czech Republic.

Domestic musicians will hold eight concerts, including the Macedonian Philharmonic, Youth Chamber Orchestra, Macedonian Opera and Ballet etc.

The dramatic part includes eight Macedonian theatre performances and five tours.

Commitment to implement key projects in Macedonia's overall transport infrastructure is planned

The Government of Macedonia deems that investments in transportation will contribute to direct growth of the economy, Minister of Transport and Communications Mile Janakieski noted in his address delivered at Tuesday's regional meeting of transport ministers in Zagreb.

A joint declaration was signed at the event binding SEE countries on regional cooperation in an effort to accelerate the process of their EU integration. Talks also focused on infrastructural and transport projects in countries from the region and on linking the region with transportation infrastructure of Europe via trans-European transportation corridors.

- We know that investments in transportation open a window of opportunities to overcome the economic downfall. Trans-European networks have fundamental importance for the mobility of persons and goods and for territorial cohesion of the European Union. If Europe wants to meet its economic and social potentials, it is vital to build the missing links and to service bottlenecks in transportation infrastructure and to ensure maintenance of our transport networks, said Minister Janakieski.

He said that two trans-European corridors were passing through  Macedonia.

- We're committed to implementing key projects and to improving the overall transport infrastructure and transport services, not only for the citizens of Macedonia, but also for all those who transit the country, Janakieski added.

Demir Kapija-Smokvica road section, which is part of Corridor 10 and will be co-financed by IPA funds, in his opinion is one of the biggest infrastructure project due to be realised in Macedonia.

Minister Janakieski in his address noted that current and future FYR Macedonian investments in Corridor 8 were in compliance with the conclusions derived from the national transport strategy and the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New Macedonian Army contingent goes to Afghanistan

A new contingent of the Macedonian Army departed for Afghanistan on Friday, Macedonian Kanal 5 television station reports.

This is the tenth contingent of the Macedonian Army. It is comprised of 149 soldiers, the most senior national representative and two officers, who will be positioned in Kabul. The Macedonian Army sent its first contingent in 2006, the television station adds.

US envoy: Time right for Macedonia name solution

Greece's presence in international fora remains unaffected by the economic crisis and the tough economic conjecture due to the international prestige enjoyed by Prime Minister George Papandreou, US ambassador to Greece Daniel Speckhard underlined on Friday.

Speaking to reporters at the US consulate in Thessaloniki, he praised Greece's economic presence in the Balkans, pointing out that as a member of the EU the country represents the greater European market.

As regards the prospects for US investments in Greece, Amb. Speckhard underlined the need for less red-tape and the implementation of structural reforms to make the business environment more flexible and friendly.

On the Macedonian "name issue", he stated that "this is a good time" for a solution and reiterated that the United States will support any settlement mutually reached by Athens and Skopje.

Speckhard's tenure as US ambassador in Greece ends in the coming period.

Interior Ministry supervises wahhabi followers

We supervise the emergence and distribution of Islamic fundamentalism and radical Islam in Macedonia, the Macedonian Interior Ministry said after the head of the Islamic Religious Community Sulejman Rexhepi had said that the ministry is passive about the emergence of wahhabi followers in the country, Macedonian Nova Makedonija daily writes on Friday.

“Once we find serious evidence supporting the suspicions that some people have committed a crime, the Interior Ministry will act in compliance with the law,” said Interior Ministry Spokesperson Ivo Kotevski.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Belgium to try to launch Macedonia’s EU accession talks

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said before the European Parliament that Belgium will try to launch the pre-accession talks with Macedonia, Macedonian Utrinski Vesnik informs.

“As far as Macedonia is concerned, the Belgian EU Presidency will try to achieve agreement on launching the pre-accession talks with the country,” Yves Leterme said at the presentation of the priorities of the Belgium EU Presidency.

Radical Islam in Macedonia worries Western observers

Western diplomats and religious experts have voiced concerns about the spread of radical Islam among Muslim communities in the Balkans, after it transpired that alleged Wahabist radicals are operating and increasing their influence in Macedonia.

The foreign-inspired religious group is active in the area around Skopje, Macedonia's capital. It has tried to perform a putsch in the Islamic religious community (IRC) after an incident in the Isa-Bey Mosque in Skopje last week.

The Isa-Bey Mosque has turned into a stronghold of radical Islam, Ibrahim Shabani, Skopje's highest Islamic clergyman, recently warned. His accusations followed a fight during which Shabani was physically assaulted and expelled from the mosque while trying to hold prayer.

Ramadan Ramadani, the Imam of the Isa-Bey Mosque, rejected the claims that his mosque is the flagship of Wahabism - a branch of Sunni Islam which is the official religion in Saudi Arabia.

The head of the IRC, the Reis-ul-ulema Sulejman Rexhepim Rexhepi, had so far denied Macedonian mosques had been taken over by radical elements. But he has confirmed that information now.

"Wahabists control four mosques in Skopje. The Internal Affairs Ministry gives us only verbal support but rests passive," he told the Albanian service of Radio Free Europe. He admitted the IRC had been trying to hide the Wahabi presence until now, hoping the radicals would withdraw and disappear again. "This didn't happen and we are going to name them for what they are," he said.

For his part, Mr Shabani also urged justice to deal with what he says is a radical Islamist group. "Last week's coup was prepared by Islamic radicals operating in Skopje. This criminal Wahabist gang is known for its radical actions and harassment of Muslim believers. We will ask the competent authorities to stop these radical groups and bring them to justice. This was proof that Wahabist structures act against the Constitution of the Islamic Community, the rules of procedure and hierarchy," he said.

Muslims are the second largest religious group in Macedonia after Orthodox Christians. The country has a population of 2 million, 25 percent of which are (predominantly Muslim) ethnic Albanians.

The allegations that radical Islamic groups operate in Macedonia coincide with the discovery of such groups further afield in the region - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia's Sandzak area.

The events in Skopje seem to be part of the battle for control over several mosques. Continuous changes of imams have allowed radical successors to take over. First attempts were undertaken between 2003 and 2004 when foreign radical Islamic groups began to infiltrate Macedonia. A few months ago, 10 imams were replaced. Four more followed several days ago.

"When a mosque is without an imam, other personalities have the leading word. And their interpretation of Islam is much more radical. That is where Wahabists see a chance to spread their views on believers. They aim to become imams," an anonymous IRC source told the Macedonian daily Dnevnik.

The director of the State Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, Valentina Bozinovska, said that she is not aware of a new spread of radical Islam in the country. "It comes from some individuals," she said.

A diplomat from a large European Union country disagrees. Radical Islam is the biggest fear in Western European capitals regarding Macedonia, he told WAZ.EUobserver. "Our analysis shows that in the coming years these tendencies will grow," he said.

There are other opinions as well. University professor Zoran Matevski believes tensions and incidents are the result of political influences.

"This is another remarkable proof that political parties have great influence in selecting the leadership of the IRC. In my opinion, this is not a calculation based on religious, but purely on political motivations. I believe this is the background to the alleged existence of Wahabist structures," Mr Matevski explained.

"They don't say it in public, but Western diplomats are concerned about the growth of radical Islamic tendencies in the Balkans," said Olivier Gillet, a Belgian expert on religion and nationalism in the Balkans. "In 10 years we will have serious problems everywhere," he added.

He recalled that a few months ago the Macedonian prime minister received a warning from Israel to be vigilant about radical Islam. Israel also shared intelligence about members of Hezbollah in the Balkans, he said.

"In Western societies we also have this problem. The difference is that in the West, they are immigrant communities while in the Balkans the Muslim community has historical and sociological roots."

Sarajevo and the Sandzak region in Serbia are often cited as two major centers of radical Islam in the Balkans. The Serbian authorities have kept quiet on the issue in order to avoid problems. Some diplomats assume there may be undercover terrorist training camps in Bosnia, but no reliable evidence of that has emerged so far.

Konjanovski, Milososki meet Rasmussen, NATO ambassadors

Defense Minister Zoran Konjanovski and Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki took part Wednesday at the North-Atlantic Council's session in the format 28+1 to discuss Macedonia's progress in implementing the 11th cycle of the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), followed by a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Konjanovski and Milososki referred to the ongoing reforms in Macedonia's army, administration, judiciary, in line with NATO accession criteria.

"Ambassadors voiced enormous support to Macedonia's reform process. Taking into consideration its capacity and resources, Macedonia is obviously one of the biggest contributors in NATO-led missions, especially ISAF", said FM Milososki after the session.
The meeting also focused on regional stability, with Macedonia being an active stakeholder in the process.

Milososki underlined that large credit went to the overwhelming support of Macedonian citizens to the country's NATO accession.

Moreover, Konjanovski and Milososki stressed Macedonia and Greece lead intensive talks regarding the imposed name dispute, with the former expecting greater flexibility and pragmatism from the latter, resulting in the issue's settlement that would enable FYR Macedonia's NATO accession, but also enhance regional stability.
According to Defense Minister Konjanovski, all ambassadors who took part in the debate confirmed that FYR Macedonia has done its job, meeting all membership conditions, but the name issue remains to be solved.

"Regarding defense reforms, we were encouraged to maintain the current tempo", added Konjanovski.

He said Macedonia remained committed to ISAF and other missions, proper training of Macedonian Army (ARM) members, army depolitization, as well as multiethnic troops, something which was saluted by meeting participants

EU envoy in Macedonia criticises lack of political dialogue

EU Representative in Macedonia Erwan Fouere criticised the government and political parties Thursday (July 8th) for avoiding dialogue and delaying the reform process. At a meeting of parliament's EU affairs committee, he said that Macedonia has enough time -- ahead of the European Commission's next progress report in November -- to gain some ground. Fouere also called for strengthening the judiciary and public administration. Belgian Ambassador Mark Mickelson, who also attended the meeting, presented his country's priorities as the current EU presidency holder. He reiterated that each country will be assessed on its individual merits.

Government slashes ambassadors’ salaries by 5% over crisis

The Macedonian government has slashed the salaries of the ambassadors by 5%, Macedonian Kirilica news website reports.

The payment reduction comes at the proposal of Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski and is one of the government’s measures to cushion the crisis fallout. The news website says that a 5% reduction is not a large one. The ambassadors’ salaries run to more than MKD 120,000 (MKD 61 = EUR 1) and after the slash their monthly payment will go down by some MKD 6,000.

Macedonia announces an EUR 1,9 million e-registration system

E-registration of companies, e-applications for first employment and documents for deposit and leasing, networking of competent institutions is part of the second stage of the single window system project, which the Central Register of  Macedonia launched on Wednesday.

In the framework of the project, worth EUR 1,9 million, the first system will be put into use in August, whereas complete implementation is expected by the year-end.

"This is an extremely important project, which will enable e-registration of companies from abroad", said Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski at the presentation.

The project's objective is shortening and simplification of the procedure for registration of legal entities, meeting of European directives and e-registration of commercial companies, implementation of the Law on e-Signature and the concept of e-certificate, along with reduction of the administrative burden of the business community.

"Implementation of such operations confirm the Government's commitment for increase of the Macedonian market's appeal to foreign investors, growth in the range of e-services to the business community, its protection through introduction of so-called 'black list' of entities, increase of transparency of bankruptcy procedures and availability of loans through e-deposit and leasing", stated PM Gruevski. 

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Belgium Aims To Help Resolve Macedonia-Greece Deadlock

The Belgian EU presidency is willing to help facilitate an agreement between Macedonia and Greece on the name dispute in order to make the start of accession talks between Skopje and Brussels possible.

“Belgium will endeavor to seek an agreement to start accession negotiations,” Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said in the European Parliament in Strasbourg today. Leterme made the remarks while presenting the priorities of his government for its six month presidency of the EU.

This readiness to help Macedonia on its European path was also expressed on Tuesday when Leterme met in Brussels with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Gruevski.

Leterme said that his government would attempt in coming weeks and months to negotiate in coordination with Matthew Nimetz, the UN mediator for the name dispute. “I sincerely hope that with the initiative of the Belgian presidency we can promote a solution,” Macedonian media quoted Leterme as saying after his meeting with Gruevski. “People deserve this and Europe deserves this,” he added.

Athens and Skopje are locked in a long lasting spat over the use of the name Macedonia. Athens insists that Skopje’s official name, Republic of Macedonia, implies territorial claims over its own northern province, which is also called Macedonia.

Athens blocked Skopje’s invitation to join NATO in 2008 and has stalled its efforts to join the EU over the unresolved row.

Gruevski, speaking after the meeting on Tuesday, said that many things depend on the steps that will be undertaken by the Greek government, Macedonian media report.

“We don’t want to insist that we are either optimists or pessimists, but we want to find a solution through a process that is led by Mr. Nimetz and we want to continue to search for the solution which would normalize relations with Greece and which would be acceptable for both sides,” Gruevski said.

Macedonian Trade Unions want Shorter Work Week

Macedonians feeling French?

The Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia (SSM) demands reduction of the working week from 40 to 32 or 36 hours. They also demand the government to subsidize a half of salaries of workers who were sent to forced vacations.

These are some of measures proposed by SSM for the purpose of cushioning negative effects of the crisis.

The state should also provide money for additional education and training of workers. SSM thinks that this would result in an improved social and economic situation for workers as well as decrease in unemployment.

Chairman of SSM Zivko Mitrevski thinks that the state should not have any problems with providing money for salary subsidies in the amount of 30 to 50 percent. According to SSM, such measures saved some 5,000 working places in Slovenia.

Orwell in Macedonia

The mere thought of challenging the ruling authority is a crime, George Orwell wrote in his famous novel "1984." Macedonia does not have Orwell's Thought Police, but the new law on electronic communications, adopted on 17 June, genuinely scares human rights organisations. They have voiced concerns for civil liberties and the protection of privacy.

The deputy minister for transport did not quell their fears when he said "it is clear which group of citizens is targeted by this law and those are the people who work against the state, its sovereignty and integrity. If some people recognise themselves in this description, that is their problem."

With a majority of only one vote in the ruling conservative VMRO DPMNE party, the Macedonian parliament adopted the controversial law, which states that the internet, mobile and fixed line operators in the country have to respond positively to a request from the Ministry of Interior and give them all data on communications. They are obliged to store this information for 24 months, and to give the ministry 24/7 direct access to their networks, allowing it to take over the data it wants. The ministry can physically locate every internet and mobile user. Internet and mobile phone providers are also obliged to buy technology which is compatible with Interior Ministry's. All hardware or software changes have to be notified.

Last but not least, the ministry has the right to get all the information without a court order - therefore, the ministry is to act without any outside control.

This law is unconstitutional, according to the Directorate for the Protection of Personal Data, a government agency. It says it was not consulted during the work on the law and decided to give its opinion after reading media reports on the topic. "The law violates the constitutional postulates on the freedom and inviolability of all forms of communication," the directorate said.

Even the state prosecutor, a figure who is close to the ruling party, criticised the new law. "The ministry has exclusivity in the monitoring of all communications, but how to proceed if there is a suspicion of crime in the ministry itself? What are our possibilities to detect a potential crime there? Let us be honest - not even they are immune to crime," said Ljupco Svrgovski. He asked that his department be given means to follow the communications of the institutions protected by this legislation.

"This law provides authorities with unacceptable and invasive intrusion into the privacy of citizens and seriously threatens the basic postulates of human rights," the Macedonian branch of Hthe elsinki Committee for Human Rights said, adding that the move is contrary to all existing international standards in the area.

The European Commission has still not reacted. The Skopje government sent them only the first draft of the law, which did not contain the controversial articles. "Macedonia will have to answer some unpleasant questions in Brussels. We tried to make our VMRO DPMNE colleagues in the Parliament understand that they will also be victims of this law. But, they didn't want to hear it," said Jani Makraduli, a member of parliament for the social democrat opposition.

Macedonian human rights fighters and the opposition plan to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

Athens receives signs from Skopje

Greece hopes that the process for solving the name issue could go forward in view of the signs it receives from the Macedonia government. This is what Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Drucas stated, cited by Macedonian Dnevnik daily. In Drucas’s words the pressure of the international community is currently directed to Skopje.

“Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski sends some shy signs that he understands he should change his position if he wants European future for his state. We are here at the negotiation table in UN”, Drucas said.

Parliament to debate motion on Speaker's dismissal on Saturday

Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanoski scheduled a session on Saturday (July 10) with only one item on the agenda - SDSM and NSDP's motion for his dismissal.

- Instead of finding a compromise on the establishment of an inquiry committee, I received today a formal motion from SDSM and NSDP deputies regarding my removal from the post President of the Macedonian Parliament. The motion will not distract me from my intention on one hand to clarify all of the circumstances in connection to the July 1 incident. On the other hand, the Parliament will continue executing its constitutional obligations and fulfilling our European agenda, Veljanoski told Thursday's press conference where he announced measures taken by him following the Parliament incident.

Because his "integrity is at stake", Veljanoski said he postponed today's plenary session and scheduled a debate on his dismissal on Saturday taking into consideration the EU integration processes and crucial items that had to be passed in the Parliament.

Asked whether the Parliament security had made omissions, Veljanoski said this should be determined by an inquiry committee, whose main goal would be to compose a report and submit it to the Parliament.

- I urge an inquiry committee to be formed with consensus, the Speaker stated.

The measures suggested by Veljanoski also include development of a feasibility study for the establishment of a security service of the Parliament, ethic code for MPs, establishment of an inquiry committee in a manner similar to other inquiry committees formed with consensus, heightened security measures during the reconstruction of Parliament's building, etc..