The ambassador of Sweden in North Macedonia, Ami Larsson Jain, in an interview to Portalb.mk, talks about the latest developments in the country, about the constitutional changes on the country’s European integration path, reforms in justice and the representation of women in politics. The ambassador says that it is encouraging to see that the dialogue between the government and the opposition on the constitutional amendments has begun. She also makes clear that real progress towards EU membership will require just as real – and sustainable – improvement when it comes to the rule of law. But, she says, the changes in the laws are not enough, the implementation and execution of the laws must be seen. The ambassador emphasized that the year 2030 for entry into the EU is an ambitious goal and its achievement will depend on the speed of reforms in North Macedonia in several areas, not least in the area of the rule of law.
How do you comment on the recent political developments regarding the constitutional changes in North Macedonia? Specifically, the actions of the opposition where they oppose to these changes on one hand, and the government’s actions on the other?
The decision to amend the Constitution is a sovereign one, so it is not for me to comment on what the Macedonian political leadership should do.
What I can say is that both my country and the other EU member states have been clear about the fact that we believe that the Western Balkans countries belong in the EU. This was the message clearly expressed by the EU Heads of Government at the summit in Tirana last year.
I will add that there is currently strong momentum for enlargement, due to the geopolitical reality we find ourselves in. During many years working in EU affairs, I have learned that momentum is a priceless commodity. When you have it, you run with it.
Enlargement is very much a priority for the EU, and for the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU. We wish to see North Macedonia progress toward EU membership. It is therefore encouraging the see that a dialogue between the Government and the opposition has been initiated on the constitutional amendments.
The European Union has invested millions of euros in order for us to have an independent judiciary system, due to its lack of independence which, for years, is a burning issue in North Macedonia. All the EU progress reports, have been vocal about this issue. So, please tell us, why do you think there’s no progress on this field ?
I think Macedonians will need to answer this question, rather than me. I can however say that real progress towards EU membership will require equally real – and lasting – improvements when it comes to the rule of law. The EU follows developments in this field very closely.
Reforms in this field will benefit the citizens, not from the day the country enters the EU, but from the day they are implemented. So this transformative process will require hard work and concerted efforts from many different actors, but also give early gains for citizens.
Why can nothing help in fighting corruption? Do you think that what’s done so far in this field is just for declarative purposes and actually nothing substantially has changed? (we have seen many cases of ministers abusing their power, influence, their official cars, the nepotism cases…and similar examples).
It is true that the EU – and other international partners – have invested very large sums in reform support to North Macedonia, not least in the area of rule of law. We all know that corruption is detrimental to the development of the country, and it is also part of what makes many young people choose to build their future elsewhere. This is something the country cannot afford. The imperative to create change should be strong – and change is also a prerequisite for North Macedonia to become an EU member.
But changes to laws are not enough, we need to see implementation – and enforcement of the laws. The good news is that there are a lot of people who are actively trying to improve accountability. Through our reform cooperation program we for example fund skilled investigative journalism.
What do we lose (as a country) if we don’t start the negotiations on time, in November? On the other hand, our politicians are saying loudly that it will only take 7 years for North Macedonia to gain its EU membership. Are you optimistic about these time frames and deadlines?
The risk is that North Macedonia loses substantial time – and misses the current strong momentum for enlargement.
In the end it is about EU membership. Before Sweden joined the Union many Swedes also had concerns of what it would mean for our self-determination, or some cultural specificities that were felt keenly by Swedes. At the same time there was clear recognition that Sweden belonged in the EU with our closely-knit partners, with whom we shared values, interests, and a common market. It was not an easy debate and tensions ran high. In the end, the population was split nearly 50-50 for and against membership.
Today the support for Sweden’s EU membership is very strong, it is around 68 percent. It has become a part of our identity, we are as much EU members as we are Swedes. As a small export and import dependent economy we have benefitted enormously from the internal market. We can work and study in other EU countries and bring back a wealth of experience and knowledge back to Sweden.
We also have strong allies in a united EU front in the face of violent conflict on our continent, and we are together taking the lead in the green transition so that the EU will remain at the forefront of innovation and competitiveness in the world.
2030 is an ambitious target, and reaching it will depend on North Macedonia’s pace of reforms in a number of areas, not least in the area of rule of law. This transformative change will be difficult, but we will be here to support you throughout the process.
A large number of staff in the EU institutions and in Member States are working on North Macedonia’s EU accession. This shows that the EU is also investing heavily in the process and will ensure that it is credible and rigorous.
The representation of women in politics and decision-making in North Macedonia is low, what and where should the country work in this regard, in your opinion, what would be the best practices for improving this problem?
I would like to answer this question by telling you about Swedish experiences in this field.
Gender equality policies have been a key factor in transforming my own country into a modern, progressive society that gives women and men, girls and boys the same opportunities to live up to their full potential. It is a question of human rights, but in addition a strong emphasis on gender equality has strengthened our economy. Women can have a fulfilling professional life and contribute to the economic development of the country.
For us, it has been an important starting point that in order to create a society that meets the needs of the whole population, the whole population must be represented in democratic decision-making processes. In this way, everyone’s perspectives and experiences can be taken into consideration, and the best possible decisions can be made. I think this speaks for itself – it makes perfect sense that you would want to draw on the whole talent pool in society, not just half.
Women politicians are often attacked in social media and sometimes also in real life. Some of the rhetoric and actions they are subjected to are simply appalling. One of my first meetings in Skopje was with female politicians from North Macedonia and the region, and they shared how aggressively they are often treated for the work they do in politics. This is not just a problem in North Macedonia, and mechanisms to address violence against women in politics, supportive networks and mentorship activities for young women in politics can be useful tools.