Interview with Ambassador Christian Thimonier: It is essential that Macedonia is a success

The new Government showed great ambition in changing and reforming. We have the 3-6-9 agenda, constant statements and dedication of their implementation. How do you, as an ambassador, see these moments and impulses?

– The reform agenda represents a great pathway. The steps of its preparation were really successful. This agenda gave Macedonia the chance to get back on the international stage as a positive factor. Also, the agenda marked the end of a period of stagnation, even regression, where you lost a part of the progress on the way to the EU and NATO. The inclination is restored and not it has to be transformed into trust through reform, but mostly through new ways of running the country. This goes to the Macedonian society as a whole, not just the political parties and Government. The real contribution cannot be just a list of reforms. The change should represent a new motive for the society. The impulse was felt and now it has to be materialized by investing their entire good will.
This period is of great importance. All indications are observed in order to decide if this agenda is the right program for change. You will have our support if it’s right. It is our duty as European solidarity.

The main issue is the name dispute. There are positive signals and new climate. Do you think there will be a solution in the near future or just repetition of the previous efforts:

– The period behind us was a time of crisis for both sides, it is much better now. We need to use this stability to end the paradox when two neighboring countries, which share so much mutual interest and strategic orientation, are stuck in an issue that produced so much prejudice, clichés and mechanisms that need to be removed. These are positive vibes, thanks to both ministers of exterior affairs and their good will. This will bring the international process to life, supported by the UN. This process, as well as all bilateral and regional initiatives for reconciliation, need to be supported. It will be easier as well for the Greek authorities to stand behind a reasonable agreement with a country that is stable and is in good relations with all other neighboring countries, while collaborating with the institutions in Brussels. It is of great importance to transfer from a phase of blocking the process into new dynamics that is based on trust between both concerning sides, which will turn those small steps into one giant leap.

There is initiative for meeting in Paris in order to intensify the political dialogue between the two main political parties. VMRO-DPMNE stated that they are not going to participate, bringing the initiative in question. Are you involved in this planned meeting in your country’s capital?

– A normal governmental and political life, which fills in all democratic criteria and a country freed from political parties, is the basic condition for the European integration of Macedonia. These principles are applied to all countries in the region and the Macedonian political force should integrate them in their work if they want to serve the people’s interests. Of course there is a lot of work to be done before we get the wanted result. I wouldn’t know if it’s necessary to go to Paris in order to start this dialogue because it’s obvious that some of the obstacles that functional democracy faces are of personal nature and nothing more, no need to get into whether there are interests in some sort of kleptomania, rather than democracy. We carefully monitor the efforts the Parliament Speaker makes and the ones that are encouraged to find practical ways for its realization. We are convinced that the real dialogue needs to be done with the opposition included, because their members represent a large number of citizens as well.

Reforms in the justice system are substantial. Do you think this process will move forward when the new Ombudsman is named, including all new bills that need to be voted in the Parliament?

– The judiciary reform is one of the most anticipated and monitored reforms, because it represents a way to measure the Government’s sincerity, as well as the society’s dedication in establishing laws in the country, instead of using the system for revenge or power. This dialogue is, of course, active and interactive with the Europeans, who went through periods of hardship themselves, while some of the EU members are still facing these problems. France is very involved in in this area through training judges and public defenders in a 10-year collaboration with the Academy and will continue its investment in an equal and transparent system in selection of judges, as a guarantee to their neutrality, taking in consideration the society’s diversity and all its components. On the other hand, the number of lawyers, who bravely and cautiously demanded change in the Government’s conduct regarding the procedure in selection and promotion, need to preserve their attitude and ethics.
After all, the development will mainly depend on the dynamics of the people’s interest in the justice system and integrity, not the remarks from Brussels. However, they should be taken seriously because they are substantial in your way to the EU.

We also have the media reform, the bill for it is scheduled for debate. What are your views on the proposed legal solutions and do you think there could be more done if the demands from the journalist organizations are being considered?

– After a long period of tension, there is new climate in the media. The period of attacks and threats toward journalists has brought the Macedonian crisis to international attention. A normal, pluralistic system is necessary, a system that is freed from the influence of political parties and economic pressure. This is one of the main challenges in the entire region and I’m very pleased that my fellow citizen Harlem Désir, OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media, handled this challenge with all its significance. On his visit, he acknowledged the progress of the new political structures and stated that plans need to be realized. He emphasized the need of a public audiovisual system that will be objective and politically independent. This will be crucial in estimating the accuracy of those changes promised by the new Government. I would like to take this opportunity and join Mr.Desir in congratulating “Nezavisen/Independent,” wish you success in your work and hope you stay true to the paper’s name. Printed media of high quality are one of the basic conditions for democracy.
Do you agree with Johannes Hahn’s claim that the bill on languages is not a priority, and that the reform package remains a priority. Does this bill need to be approved as soon as possible?

– The demands from the EU are numerous and essential. It’s very important to respect the agenda, and it will not be easy under these current conditions in the Parliament. This needs to be kept in mind and issues need to be addressed appropriately and methodically in the following period in the Parliament. Unfortunately, the debate on languages, with all its political and emotional charge, is suitable for unnecessary manipulation. Can’t it wait until other issues, which have consensus and are crucial for EU membership, are resolved? We need to ask ourselves.

Prime Minster Zaev is optimistic that by February next year the country will be able to execute tasks in order to get an evaluation and a well-deserved place in the EU. Are you as optimistic as he is?

– The Prime Minister’s optimism is an asset. He seems very sincere in his plans for change on each of our meetings. We see this optimism in many other ministers. They all face the burden which is specific to this society and sometimes they need to defend contradicting interests on their long and complicated road to the EU. But a big part of time lost in the past years has been restored in just a few months. As President Emmanuel Macron stated, the European project will not be completed until the Western Balkans are a part of it. And that is a great sign for us optimists. It is essential that Macedonia is a success when it comes to the eu-integration process.
Naser Pajaziti