Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Distinguished President, distinguished Secretary General of the Council of Europe, distinguished President of the Committee of Ministers, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is my special pleasure to have the honour of addressing you at a time when my country presides over the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. To preside over the decision-making body of the oldest political organisation in Europe is a great challenge and responsibility for the Republic of Macedonia, especially since this is the first time in its 15-year membership of the Council of Europe.

Each chairmanship endeavours to establish continuity of operations, thereby adding to the achievements of its predecessors, and simultaneously to leave behind visible results on the basis of which the following chairmanship will set its priorities. In this way, consistency is established in the work of the Committee of Ministers. Precisely to that end, my country is focused on the fulfilment of the key mission of the Organisation: human rights protection, the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law. Our basic objective is not only to follow the progress of our predecessors, but also to add our own specificities within the aim of developing a multicultural and inclusive European society.

Through being a Council of Europe member state, the Republic of Macedonia has demonstrated its acceptance of the principle of the rule of law and the guaranteeing of fundamental freedoms. The Macedonian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers bears great symbolism since it takes place during the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights through which our efforts for strengthening the efficiency of the system of protecting human rights have become even more relevant.

“Ethnic and religious co-existence founded on a strong commitment to intercultural dialogue has made my country a model for Europe”

That important legal instrument of the Council of Europe was the starting point for the priorities of the Macedonian chairmanship. It has envisaged concrete activities in its agenda, aiming towards their realisation.

I avail myself of this opportunity to point once more to a part of the priority objectives included in the integrated approach of the Macedonian chairmanship which, according to my deep conviction, will contribute to democratic stability in Europe. Our priorities are directed towards achieving greater social cohesion by respecting social rights; a Europe founded on the integration of national minorities in society; promotion of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue as a significant instrument of common understanding; and active participation of youth in the democratic processes and policy creation.

Peace, stability and democracy are the basis for good inter-ethnic relations in the spirit of mutual understanding and respect for fundamental freedoms and rights. That is the essential foundation for the establishment of a functional, multi-ethnic and multicultural society, leading towards general progress and development of communities. To build a multicultural society is a challenge for all democratic societies as one of the most complex and sensitive political issues.

The Council of Europe has demonstrated strong political will in the founding of the universal values of a sound and stable society, recognising freedom of expression and the promotion of national culture with all its characteristic features, respecting differences and the establishment of a strong multi-ethnic society. We seek to achieve greater unity among the 47 Council of Europe member states in the protection of individual rights, democratic freedoms and the rule of law, which are the bases of every real democracy. They are the fundamental principles on which the activities and the politics of the Council member states are based.

The Republic of Macedonia respects the European recommendations, and its development is based on the fundamental values of the Council of Europe: peace, stability, democracy and the enhancement of the principles of universal human rights and the rule of law. Human rights are one of the three fundamental values of the Council of Europe, along with democracy and the rule of law. Macedonia, by promoting its model of inclusive democracy, can contribute to their realisation. Respecting ethnic and cultural co-existence is our tradition, developed through the centuries and a model for our future.

Despite the difficult economic circumstances facing Europe, the Macedonian chairmanship considers that it remains of vital importance to maintain the system of human rights protection, determined by the Convention, both at national level and at the level of the Organisation as a whole. Democratic stability arises from a respect of human rights, including social rights. To that end, the Macedonian chairmanship focused its attention on the appropriate application of the principle of solidarity and strengthening social cohesion in Europe. Our efforts in this area should enable us successfully to face the new challenges relating to employment and the standards of living of European citizens, especially as we tackle the economic crisis.

The Republic of Macedonia has a long tradition of respecting ethnic languages and cultural diversity and has ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. From this platform today, I strongly encourage the countries that have not ratified the Framework Convention to do so without further delay. Only in this way will the minorities in those countries be able fully to enjoy the protection that it can provide to them.

The Republic of Macedonia is a multi-ethnic country. The ideas of “unity in diversity”, social inclusion and stronger interconnection in the European Union are inseparable and common goals of Macedonian society. The activities of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia have continuously promoted European values – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – to our citizens, thus enhancing the strong European spirit that exists in our country. Putting national interests aside to achieve higher objectives is part of Macedonian history. Let me mention the Kruševo manifesto of 1903, which states that everyone, regardless of their national and religious affiliation, gender and belief, can fight for their basic human rights – the right to freedom.

Macedonia is today an example in Europe and the world of how in such a small territory a great number of various ethnic groups live equally. It shows how different cultures unite without threatening each other and how they are respected regardless of religious, ethnic or cultural affiliation. Therefore, it is quite natural that one of the priorities of the Macedonian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is to promote and foster the integration of national minorities in European society. Macedonia continues to enhance its understanding of multi-ethnicity. No matter how big the differences among us are, they cannot exceed the fact that we are all humans with equal rights and freedoms. By respecting each other, we respect ourselves.

The Macedonian chairmanship puts a special emphasis on integrating marginalised groups in society. In this decade of Roma, I want to emphasise that the Government of the Republic of Macedonia remains firmly committed to promoting further inclusion of Roma in all social and economic events, identifying the way in which it should deal with social separation, how it should provide education, decent living conditions, new jobs and education on the cultural rights of children, and how it should promote the language and culture of the Roma community. The use of Roma grammar was recently promoted along with a Romany-Macedonian and Macedonian-Romany dictionary, which is an important step for the culture and education of the Roma community. The Roma population in Macedonia has its own local government, a minister in the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, members of parliament, schools, media and everything that reflects the everyday life of a community.

The objective of our chairmanship is to initiate as great as possible inclusion of the Roma population, and certainly of the other marginalised groups of citizens, when making decisions on issues that affect their everyday lives. The effective participation of the Roma population, and also of the other marginalised groups, in our cultural, social and economic life means de facto integration, which is a great task and an important priority both for my country and Europe as a whole.

Cultural diversity in Europe is another of our priorities. The aim is to establish an open and inclusive society that respects the differences in a growing multicultural environment. It is my particular pleasure to emphasise that the Council of Europe has already set standards at this level.

Taking into consideration the long tradition of cultural and religious co-existence in the Republic of Macedonia, we feel it is normal for us to be actively involved in intercultural dialogue. In that context, we organised the ministerial conference on the social value of cultural heritage in Europe at the beginning of which the White Paper on intercultural dialogue was promoted.

Cultural diversity has great creative potential, through which a multicultural dialogue is built. At the same time it leads to political and ethnic consolidation, and a greater confidence among the various entities about their joint futures. The vision for promoting dialogue among various cultures in European countries, by practising intercultural dialogue, is a long-term project. The different dialogue and thoughts contained in the publication are a good basis for developing strategies for the best use of dialogue to strengthen social cohesion, to increase people’s interest in becoming familiar with the cultural specificities of other ethnic groups and representatives of different religious groups, and to create a higher degree of mutual trust and tolerance.

Since the country gained its independence, all Governments of the Republic of Macedonia have reflected the Macedonian multi-ethnic reality. In the Macedonian Government, each community has its representatives through whom it articulates and channels its needs and interests in an institutional form. Macedonia is ready to share its gains with all those who could take advantage of our experience, which I highlight is upgraded and improved every day. Thus, the Macedonian model of democratic multicultural society is a permanent process.

The Republic of Macedonia is a candidate country for membership of the European Union and a candidate country for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Membership of the European Union and NATO are the highest priorities of Macedonian foreign policy, and they are largely supported and approved by more than 80% of our citizens regardless of any affiliation, including their ethnic, religious and political affiliations. This priority is an additional element of cohesion in our society. We met all the necessary requirements, and implemented all reforms and modernisation proposals. Last year, we received from the European Commission a recommendation to determine a date for the start of EU membership negotiations. However, the EU Council, owing to opposition from one member state because of the dispute over the constitutional name of our country, did not accept the recommendation from us and the Commission. From the Macedonian perspective, we were again obstructed. After Bucharest and the blockage of NATO membership, there was a blockage on EU membership.

Although I do not want to burden you during this address, we are still faced with exceptionally serious, complex and significant challenges in finding a solution to the dispute imposed by our neighbour regarding our name, and in securing the Euro-Atlantic perspective for the country, which is held hostage by this problem. I wish to highlight our firm commitment to overcoming this dispute. I am saying this clearly before you, esteemed ladies and gentlemen, and at this event because of the importance of this institution and because of the principles on which it is based. They are principles of mutual respect and understanding, tolerance and respect of differences, respect of others’ identity and the right to self-identification, respect of the international order and its norms and rules. That is what we are looking for. Therefore, I allow myself to emphasise it here. The Council of Europe is the very institution that protects and promotes those principles and values.

Please allow me to briefly address the issue of youth and its perspectives, which is one of our priorities during this chairmanship. Young people are the vital element of a sound democratic society. Therefore, their active participation in decision-making processes is of exceptional significance. That leads to one of our priorities – participation of the younger generations in European democratic processes, especially in south-east Europe.

Therefore, the Macedonian chairmanship initiated the Ohrid process, the aim of which is greater inclusion of young people from the region in decision making, and in the processes of policy development in your esteemed countries, with the objective of achieving a greater contribution to building a better society. Regional challenges require regional solutions, which is precisely why the commitment of young people to the creation of strong regional partnerships is envisaged in the declaration of the Ohrid process.

Political parties have a significant role in the processes of democratic reforms, which makes them a target group of youth councils in south-east Europe and their branches. Such parties would provide additional support to the active participation of youth in the democratic reforms of their countries, especially in the promotion and introduction of the standards and principles of the Council of Europe. In this context, the activities of the youth councils would be precisely directed towards the support of youth political branches for internal democratic reforms, which would increase the participation of young people in the creation of inter-party policies. That would lead to a strengthening and institutionalisation of the cooperation with the schools of political studies of the Council of Europe that operate in several countries in the region. That could be considered one of the contributions of the Council of Europe to the global marking of 2010, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, as the international year of youth.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, at the end of this address, I would like to emphasise that the Macedonian chairmanship will work hard until the end of its term on the realisation of the set goals, which, I reiterate, were determined on the basis of our long tradition as a multi-ethnic state with strong ties based on the common values and principles of respecting all ethnic groups.

The Government of the Republic of Macedonia will continue to work on building comprehensive relations of co-operation with all countries from the immediate and broader neighbourhood – both in the bilateral area and within the regional initiatives and projects – by participating in existing initiatives for regional co-operation. The Republic of Macedonia supports European integration as a unique model of common creation of the future that has enabled the longest period of peace, stability and economic prosperity on the European continent.

Through foreign policy in the bilateral and multilateral areas, we all promote our national values and interests. By creating comprehensive relations of co-operation with all countries from the immediate and broader neighbourhood – both bilaterally and within the regional initiatives and projects, participating in the existing initiatives for regional co-operation in the whole region – the fundamental values of the Council of Europe are being successfully promoted and built. Thank you for your attention.


Thank you, Mr Gruevski, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. I remind colleagues that questions must be limited to 30 seconds, and that they should ask questions, not make speeches.

The first question is from Mrs Papadimitriou on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.


Welcome to our Assembly, Mr Prime Minister. On every given occasion, including at the present stage, at the threshold of your accession to NATO, you have repeated your country’s firm commitment to the development of friendly relations with all its neighbours. However, on numerous occasions, you have explicitly or implicitly encouraged irredentists which are far from being friendly. In that context, I remind you of your endorsement of the recent exhibition of maps of greater Macedonia, which incorporates territories including Thessaloniki. Do such manifestations abide with your declarations then and today?

Mr Gruevski, Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Macedonia’s approach is to pay maximum attention to find a solution to the issue that has been raised by Greece for many years in connection with our constitutional name. We are fully focused in the process to find some solution and ideas on how to overcome the issue, to improve relations with Greece and to find the way to a better future with our neighbour. We will continue with the same activities to try to find some solution.

On the issue of the maps, that event happened when I was a guest at another event, and it cannot be connected with our efforts to find a solution, to overcome the problem and to remove the obstacles to membership of NATO and the EU.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

You mentioned, Mr Prime Minister, that a multicultural society is an ongoing challenge. What are your concrete plans for bringing the two main communities in Macedonia closer together, so that they both see their state as their common state?

Mr Gruevski, Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Our country is one of those that paid a lot of attention to giving more individual rights to its ethnic communities. Even in the beginning, when our country came into existence in 1991, the so-called Badinter Commission found that our constitution accorded with European standards, and after that our independence received a lot of recognition. Later, we took many steps to integrate minority ethnic communities into society. We made one amendment to the constitution in 2001, after which the rights of individuals and ethnic communities were increased. Macedonia is a good example of a country that has given individual and collective rights to members of minority ethnic communities – in education, language, equal representation in public administration, culture and local civil government.

The process of decentralisation helped to create more possibilities for smaller ethnic communities, especially those that are concentrated in municipalities, and the process is going very well. All those measures are part of our constitution. Some were introduced as amendments in 2001, but we are implementing all of them and showing that it is possible for two ethnic communities that speak completely different languages to live together and to solve their problems through dialogue, discussion and the exchange of ideas. In any multi-ethnic society, it is normal for some differences and different ideas to emerge from time to time, and there are different approaches to problem solving, but the challenge is to find a way to solve all those problems through dialogue, discussion, a positive approach and compromise. That is how we in Macedonia are solving our problems, and that is how we – the majority ethnic community of Macedonian, and the minority ethnic communities of Albanians, Turks, Serbs, Bosniacs, the Roma people and Vlachs – successfully live together.

Mr ZERNOVSKI ("The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Prime Minister, welcome to Strasbourg. The government and opposition in the Republic of Macedonia hold the same position: the main problem with fulfilling Macedonia’s European Union aspiration is the obstruction of our southern neighbour, whose veto goes totally against the Council of Europe’s values and principles. Based on one of our previous sessions, we know the so-called “red line” of your colleague, Mr Papandreou, so what is your red line regarding the name issue?

Mr Gruevski, Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Our strong belief is that if somebody wants to solve the problem, red lines are not the right instrument for doing so, so the lines that the other side, Greece, presents just create a bad atmosphere and limit our efforts to solve the problem. Our approach is different. We have to solve the problem through dialogue, mutual respect, including respect for the right of every country to name themselves as they wish and the respect for individual rights, nationality, language and identity. We will solve that problem through discussion and dialogue, not through red lines, which just create problems and block the possibility of any deeper dialogue. I hope that by working in those circumstances, with red lines, we will come to understand that they are not a good way of solving the issue and overcoming the problem.

The problem is damaging both of us. We, the Republic of Macedonia, have problems obtaining membership of NATO and the European Union, and we are of course not happy that we have a problem with our closest neighbour, who should promote our European integration. They are a trade partner and the third biggest investor in our country. We want much better relations, a much better approach from our neighbour to us and a situation in which they are prepared to discuss with us, in the common ground of the European Council, respect for human rights and the rights of every country to identification. We want to solve this problem.

We intend to continue the discussions in order to find a solution that is acceptable to both sides, including our country and our citizens, bearing in mind that if we find a solution we have a political obligation to hold a referendum on whether our citizens accept it.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Another near neighbour of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” is Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the elections there last Sunday, newly elected politicians now have to find ways of implementing last year’s judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in order to end discriminatory election rules in their country. How do you, Mr Prime Minister, think that the Council of Europe can help them to restart talks on that most important obligation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet the standards and criteria of this Organisation?

Mr Gruevski, Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Bosnia is part of our region, and it is important for us and for you to see good developments in the political situation there. Our chairmanship will concentrate on that issue in the upcoming period, and the Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Antonio Milošoski, will soon visit that country to discuss the issues and try to initiate amendments to the constitution. That will help with the Council of Europe’s aim of taking matters in a better direction.

Mr FOURNIER (France) (interpretation)

said that “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” had diplomatic issues with states other than Greece. For example, Bulgaria and Serbia had still not recognised the country’s status, and Albania had a Macedonian minority population. He asked Mr Gruevski to summarise any recent talks with these three countries.

Mr Gruevski, Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Thank you for the question. No other issue can be compared to the issue that we have with Greece. It is normal to have some discussions with neighbouring countries on various issues, and to have some problems with them, but the issue that we have with Greece is not equalled by any other issue that we have with our neighbours. We have very good relations with Bulgaria. We have a lot of contacts, visits at the highest level, discussions and dialogue with it on all issues. Bulgaria is, in general, a serious supporter of Macedonian membership of the European Union and NATO. We have excellent relations with Albania and Serbia, too.

Of course, there are some issues between all countries. In the Balkans, in particular, it is normal to have some issues, but no issue is as difficult and destructive as the issue that Greece opened up, which is connected with constitutional aims. We are concentrating on that especially destructive issue that Greece opened up at the beginning of the 1990s. No one government in the past 20 years has been able to solve that problem. I hope that in the future, Greece will show more understanding of the importance of the issue, more openness, and a greater willingness to solve it.

Mr VEJKEY (Hungary)

Welcome, Prime Minister. Hungary welcomes Macedonia’s success in the ratings set out in the global competitiveness report released by the World Economic Forum on 9 September this year. Macedonia moved up five places to 79th position. It is also highly positive that, so far, the Macedonian economy has been able to tackle the highly negative impact of the world economic crisis. What kinds of measures is the Macedonian Government planning to take to roll back the high unemployment rate and to reduce the rate of poverty in the country?

Mr Gruevski, Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Macedonia is not just on the World Economic Forum list, but on the list produced by the World Bank’s yearly edition of “Doing Business”, which shows the progress of countries in creating a good business climate. It is also on the list of Forbes and many other important institutions that follow developments, reforms and modernisation in the economy. In all those lists, we are shown to have made serious improvements.

For example, “Doing Business”, which sets out the measures undertaken by the government to create a good business climate in the past year, shows that in 2006 we were in 96th position. By 2009, we had, step by step, reached 32nd position; that is serious progress, and another instance of serious progress was mentioned by a distinguished member of this Assembly. There have also been other examples of progress.

In 2007 and 2008, Macedonia made serious progress with its economy. In 2007, gross domestic product growth was 6% and in 2008 it was 5%. Also, exports in those two years increased by 60% and foreign direct investment was double that of any previous year. Many other measures and reforms helped the development of the economy in that two-year period. There was also decreasing unemployment, which is one of the most problematic issues for Macedonia.

Unfortunately, after the global crisis, like many countries, we were faced with a lot of problems. We undertook hundreds of measures in our anti-crisis packages, which had results. Of course, we did not avoid the crisis and the problems that come from it, but we have succeeded in decreasing to a minimum the damage resulting from the crisis. For example, we succeeded in avoiding a crisis in the banking sector, and in avoiding increasing taxes. Macedonia probably has the lowest taxes in Europe, and in 2007 we implemented flat-rate taxes, which helped us during the crisis.

All the measures that we undertook in 2007 and 2008, before the period of crisis, helped a lot. We gained a lot of benefit from the fact that in 2007 and 2008 we decided to repay a serious amount of our debt earlier than was necessary. That helped during the crisis; it meant that the country was in a better position. We also avoided decreasing pensions and salaries in the public sector, and did not have to make cuts in administration – things that many other countries had to do.

We continue to implement many measures, and are continuing with many reforms and modernisations. Even during the crisis, our government continued with all reforms. As a result, in 2009 the World Bank announced in “Doing Business” that Macedonia was the third biggest reformer in the world. That gave us the courage to continue with our reforms and modernisation, which is important for our citizens and for living standards.

I hope that the general crisis in the world, and especially in Europe, will, step by step, come to an end. That will help our economy, which is very much connected to the European economy; more than 60% or 70% of our exports go to Europe – mainly to Germany, but also to other European countries. The recovery of the economy in other European countries will, I believe, be an additional stimulus for our economy, allowing it to come back to the position that we were in before the crisis – a position in which, after a lot of effort, many reforms and much modernisation, there is high growth in the economy, decreasing unemployment, decreasing taxes, decreasing bureaucracy, increasing exports and increasing foreign direct investment.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

It is a pity that such a nice country is not a member of NATO or the European Union five years after your candidacy. Half an hour ago, you glorified the Council of Europe as the institution that can solve almost all the problems. Perhaps you will specify how the Council of Europe can solve all the problems about the name of your country. Your country is a full member of the Council of Europe, although your flag outside is listed in alphabetical order under “T”.

Mr Gruevski, Prime Minister of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

We have an open process under the umbrella of the United Nations. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has appointed a mediator, who, from time to time, calls on both sides to engage in consultation and to exchange ideas on how that issue might be overcome. Support from an institution such as the Council of Europe is welcome. The problem can be solved through, as I have said, dialogue, discussions, exchanging ideas and mutual respect. We are engaged in dialogue under the umbrella of the United Nations, and we are engaged in direct dialogue on a number of levels. We understand that no one else can solve the issue, but I repeat that any support, such as that that we receive from this esteemed institution, is welcome – we are very satisfied by that support.


We must now conclude the questions to Mr Gruevski. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his address and for the answers that he has given to questions.