The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is not only a military alliance, as some, who would like to prevent its presence in the Balkans want to present it, but it is also a political and economic alliance that helps democracy development, the rule of law and the economic growth. The stability offered by NATO is particularly important in our region, as a precondition for society development. Macedonia path towards Alliance’s membership was neither easy nor short, but in the end it was realized.
Northern Macedonia managed to go through relatively peaceful transition during the secession from the former Yugoslavia, when it declared independence. Fortunately country avoided the war devastation seen in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first Constitution of independent Macedonia, due to a wrong policy assessment, was adopted without the votes of Albanian delegates, who represent up 25% of the population. Such a political mistake caused consequences in 2001 when an armed conflict broke out between government forces and Albanians, which fortunately was quickly stopped. In order to correct such mistakes, the Ohrid Framework Agreement was signed which gave greater rights to Albanians and other ethnic communities, Turks, Roma, Bosniaks, Serbs and others. The signed agreement became part of the Macedonian Constitution, allowing the country to continue the Euro-Atlantic integration process.
Long before the mentioned conflict, the Macedonian Parliament adopted a resolution in 1993, which defined the foreign political priorities of the state, including integration into NATO and the European Union. At the end of 1995, the Framework Document for Accession to the Partnership for Peace was signed. In April 1999, at the NATO Summit in Washington, Macedonia became a candidate for membership, followed by beginning of the preparation and implementation of the Action Plan. It is important to emphasize that during that period, neither Russia nor China had a visible aspirations for their presence and political influence in this part of the world.
NATO and the EU
Simultaneously with the process of NATO accession, the process of fulfilling the obligations for joining the European Union has started. At that time, Macedonia had the best reform results of all the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania. It is an interesting fact that the armed conflict in Macedonia in 2001 did not stop the achievements in the process of approaching the EU. At that time, Croatia did not have a signed Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, so its political representatives were often coming to Skopje to adopt positive experiences. If we broadly analyze the process of Euro-Atlantic integration, we will come to the conclusion that the countries firstly joined the NATO alliance, and then the EU. It is a natural and logical way since NATO guarantees peace and security, helps democracy development, economy and the rule of law, so the state, through the mechanism of negotiations with the EU, reaches the standards it needs to enter the Union.
In 2005, Macedonia received the EU candidate membership status, being side by side with Croatian progress, and far before Serbia. Montenegro was not yet an independent state, since it holds referendum in 2006 voting for secession from Serbia. Nobody considered Albania as a serious candidate in the process of European integration, but it used to be in the group of countries that strive together for NATO (Macedonia, Croatia and Albania). Bosnia and Herzegovina has always had additional difficulties in this process due to its complex constitutional structure and complicated parliamentary procedures that are often blocked by entity voting.
NATO is worth a great sacrifice
Unfortunately, Macedonia’s path to NATO was halted in 2008 at the Bucharest Summit. Former US President Geroge W. Bush announced that three countries, Macedonia, Croatia and Albania, would become new members of the Alliance. Macedonian membership was opposed by Greece, which vetoed due to the unresolved dispute over Macedonia’s name. Although Macedonia was ahead of Croatia and Albania by NATO standards, it remained at the front door. After the rejection, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski warmed up the political scene by playing the card of nationalism and populism.
The atmosphere of spreading nationalism brought him a great advantage over the opposition. In order to further strengthen its position, 600 million euros were invested in the “Skopje 2014” project, feeding Macedonian mythology with construction of statues, monuments and other buildings. The blocked NATO road was a signal to investors not to invest their capital IN Macedonia regardless certain benefits provided by the government. To the satisfaction of the majority of citizens, the government change took a place in 2016, and Macedonia started negotiations with Greece in order to find a solution to the disputed issues between the two countries. The result is a new name for the state of the Republic of Northern Macedonia. At the same time, the Macedonians, as a people, kept their name and the Macedonian language. This compromise was painful, but the country finally became a NATO member.
A stable economy is not possible without security and the rule of law
After the entry of Northern Macedonia into NATO, the number of foreign investments rapidly increased in the first year. This was also the case with all other countries that became members of the most powerful military-political alliance in the world. In the first three years of Macedonian membership, more than 60,000 new jobs were created, most of them in the real sector. Such economic growth in a short time, the country has never experienced before. The example of Macedonia once again confirmed the importance of a country’s entry into NATO, because stability attracts foreign investment. This is what other Balkan countries need, since entering under a security Alliance’s shield, guarantees economic development and a better living standard.