Belgian expert Peter Vanhoutte, who facilitated the negotiations of the Przino Agreement and those in the working groups, today left for Brussels. His contract as an independent expert ends on March 27, but he announced that he would be returning to Macedonia on April 4 and said he would continue to work and help the country move forward.
As for the achievements of the negotiations with the working group, he says he is partially satisfied and that there is still a lot of work to be done.
On Tuesday, Peter Vanhoutte was awarded with a a royal decree from the Ambassador of Belgium the “Order of the Crown.” Mr Vanhoutte admitted he was quite proud of the Order as so few receive it.
Apart from being a political negotiator, Vanhoutte is also well known for going everywhere with his bike, which he say’s when finishes his work in Macedonia, he certainly won’t donate it to the Museum of VMRO.
In the past few months he has become a regular user of the social network “Twitter”. He constantly uses the social platform to express the situation in the country with photographs of kittens and satirical messages.
Your contract as an independent negotiator is coming to an end, however you say you will be returning to Macedonia on April the 4th, is this in a professional capacity or for pleasure?
Let’s say it’s a mixture of the two. I will continue to work as an independent expert and continue to find solutions for the problems the country is facing, because I believe that you need to develop a consistent plan to bring democracy back on track and that is why things are missing in many areas such as the judiciary administration, education, the media, finances…. I believe that before you go to elections, you have to implement the reforms before you can move forward in any direction. First of all you have a parliament which is completely dysfunctional, so you first need to fix the Parliament, then you can organize elections. It’s good to see that the SEC have agreed and acknowledged that there are voters which need to be checked, but the problem is that they’re 500.000 disputable voters, you need to find a solution to solve that problem. Firstly, you need to regain the peoples’ trust in the system, and you can not do that if you partially check the electoral list. You have to deal with each complaint individually. If we pretend that this problem does not exist, it is not a good start to solving the problem.
What destroyed your relationship with VMRO-DPMNE?
The day Nikola Gruevski proposed to declare me a ‘persona non grata’, I had a meeting with the auditor general and we were discussing the link between political funding and campaign funding. The moment you start a political campaign, every party opens an account and money can be transferred from the party to the bank account as campaign expenses. The question is where does the money comes from, whether it is party funding, private funding or is it government funding? I was worried when I saw VMRO-DPMNE’S accounts from 2014. What I noticed was, that they were not very reliable. To give an example, the total amount paid for personal tax was 197.000 denars. According to my calculations, with this amount of money you can hire one person. So the biggest party in the country formally employs only one person? I see this as a problem and it may imply that the people working in the party are paid by the Government. I told them that this is a problem and that if they do not investigate the issue, I would do it. This theme, raises a red flag. It was the same with the Agency for Electronic Communications. We know that they gave money for the Ferris wheel in Vardar and the tower on Vodno, but when I read the bill, I did not think it is part of their job. Is this abuse of state funding? Obviously the auditor did not like what I was saying, and called someone in the party. That evening Gruevski in an interview said that I should be declared a ‘persona non grata’.
During the negotiations, were you under pressure from Brussels, political parties or the Government?
There is always pressure in the background. I made my position very clear and simple. I am an independent expert and I was negotiating for all sides who were involved: political parties, the government, the media, NGO’s and Brussels. I have to admit that sometimes people were not happy with the results. For example, it was very hard to make progress and for every small step there was enormous pressure. Honestly, I was surprised that this kind of people were representing the Government. If you ever attempt to solve the name issue, I would say it should not be done with this government, you will need a competent and good government to solve the name dispute.
During the European Commissioner Johannes Hahn last visit in Skopje, we received two completely different statements and positions. What happened there?
Politicians always want to solve problems fast, and then to solve problems casually. They believe, you can solve problems as they appear. My opinion is, in Brussels even today they don’t have a great understanding of the concept of what problems you are dealing with here. I have never been so shocked about the fear people feel. I have not seen this in any country before. The fact that most institutions are dysfunctional is frightening, and they fail to do what they are expected to do, and that there are extremely high levels of corruption, even in the IPA funds. What I told them in January, after the Commissioner’s visit, is that we are entering another phase of the conflict and that it will only get deeper, and the situation will get only worsen because they are not trying to solve the conflict, but they just want to get to elections. And what then? What will happen the day after the election? Will the problem be solved? I do not think so. All problems must be solved before the elections. This is the reason I do not agree with the opinion of Brussels but as an independent expert I am entitled to my opinion.
At the beginning of the negotiations you were very quiet, you didn’t communicate with the media, but then you opened up and began to send written statements, invitations for briefings and you also began to use the social networks. What happened here?
At the beginning I was trying to gain the trust of the political parties and trying to be discreet. I tried to see how we would function together, that is the first step in the negotiation process. My role was to communicate with everyone, political parties, civil societies and the media. The main reason for this was to maintain balance. In all negotiations, there is always one side which is more dominant than the other, and one that is weaker. So what we always need to do, is maintain balance. If there is no balance, you can not have successful negotiations. At one moment I noticed that the more dominant side always occupied the space for the media. So, we had to try and make them weaker to make way for balance. We tried doing this by sending statements and letting everyone know what was going on during negotiations, so all media could have a better idea of what was happening, so there could be more objective reports than the reports coming from the other parties. This is the reason why I began to use social media.
What will you do with your bicycle when you leave?
I am not leaving forever. When I return, I shall continue to use it, and if one day I stop working here I will donate it to someone, I already have a few candidates. It certainly won’t end up in the VMRO Museum.
How did you feel when you heard about the bomb attacks in Brussels?
I am very sad about what happened in Brussels, but in a way it is something that we knew was going to happen sooner or later. These so-called terrorists are people from Belgium, from the region, and I know that the integration of migrants in my country is not how it should be. Many of them live together in poor neighborhoods without any prospects for decent work and proper education. I see it as one of the problems in the background. Another problem is that Belgium participates in the bombing in Syria and Iraq, which makes us part of the conflict. Also, I’m a bit skeptical about the future, because you can not solve a conflict by simply bombing or killing people. You have to talk and find other solutions.