These days, everyone hopes that Macedonia can become a NATO member within 12-18 months, and that pre-accession negotiations for EU membership can start in the same period, which according to objective expectations can be completed no later than 10 years. The Slovenian Ambassador, for example, with very good will and optimism, recently in a television interview told us that after the start of negotiations, membership is received in about 7 years if the country is well prepared, or 10 years at the latest. We, objectively, we do not belong to a “well-prepared” country in many areas of social life, so we can expect membership in about 10 years after the start of negotiations. Of course, all this is conditioned by the question of whether Macedonia will officially and self-initially change its name to “Republic of North Macedonia”. This is already another matter for which we will know the answer within a period not longer than one year. But let this dilemma be left now. Preparations for negotiations and EU membership are not something terrible at all and should not be seen as a bad and insoluble enigma. They are comprehensive and demanding, they demand effort and reforms that are not always welcomed by all, they imply proper sacrifice of some habits and comforts to which we are accustomed, but are definitely achievable. However, it is necessary to be committed and everyone in our already huge administration to do what he/she is paid for. Even this is not terrible because for every social problem and for any issue for which the EU wants to harmonize our legislation, institutions, policies and practices, there is a civil servant or department, sector and similar organizational unit that is competent and who knows which steps need to be taken. Or at least we can hope that they know them. However difficult and voluminous, this job can be done.
Finally, I can personally confirm this from the time when, as a member of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, which provided us with an EU candidate country status in 2005, I managed a department that responded and presented the largest number of answers to questions about preparedness for the status of candidate country, that is, about 20 percent of the total number of issues and in the total response that was submitted to the EU Commission on about 19,000 pages participated with about 28 percent. Since then, I am convinced that if you devote to something and want to finish it successfully, even if it looks like “mission impossible” at the beginning, then it is possible. Of course, this should be understood in a relative sense, that it is possible, if it depends on you alone, and not on some of the factors and circumstances that are given, objective, and you have no influence over them.
Due to deadlines and major necessary efforts, joining the EU, if possible, will happen with another government and some other actors on the political scene at the end of the third decade of this century. Seems too far away? It does. However, the preparations should begin immediately so that the accession into the EU does not happen at the end of the fourth decade of this century.
We can implement some things quickly and without the EU‘s encouragement. For example, we need a population census. We desperately need it. The reason is simple – we do not know how many people are there in Macedonia and what its structure is like for many of its landmarks. Without it, we are not able to effectively and efficiently manage our economic and social future. Today, we claim that we are somewhat under 2.1 million of population, but everyone knows that this figure is not accurate and that it may be different from reality for 10-15 percent, and perhaps more. That’s not a bit. There is high probability that not because of professional, financial, institutional and professional problems, but because of interethnic and political problems, we cannot carry out the census ourselves, neither now nor in the near future. It’s sad, but true.
But we can do something else. For example, we can turn to the EU and its statistical organization Eurostat to help us and let the census be performed by them. We can adjust the law, and we can also finance the process ourselves, however much it will cost (it will surely be less than the two biggest monuments of the Skopje 2014 project), although I am convinced that in one part we will receive financial assistance precisely from the EU. I am also convinced that we will not lose our pride if we give one sovereign right to an international regional organization such as the EU. After all, we have swallowed our pride many times before on much more substantive topics.
The census in the foreseen deadline can be conducted by enumerators from the EU countries that do not border with Macedonia, and in order to have no ambiguities, non-recognition, hesitations and reactions, it can be allowed for each EU enumerator to have an observer from any political or NGO organization that has the basis and desire for it. EU experts can remain in the long phase of data processing so that no one rebels that it was damaged at that stage. The results will be acceptable, whatever they are for Macedonia. They can also show some unexpected data, but they also need to be learned and accepted as such so that we know how many of us there are, who we are, where we are, and what are we like. With a population census and with unambiguous and credible data, we can adapt our future economic, educational, health, agricultural, social and other policies more quickly and easily.
The second thing that we can quickly adapt to after a census is, for example, to say that we de facto live in a higher standard than the one we officially statistically display. Hence, some answers may be revealed, which economists cannot give now in terms of low income per capita and the relatively higher level of standard existing in Macedonia. Namely, our GDP per capita is now calculated on the basis of data on the size of GDP that amounts to about 10 billion euros and the population of about 2.1 million. Thus, our GDP per capita is around 4,691 euros (data for 2016) and, according to Eurostat data, it is close to that of Serbia (4,904 euros); BiH (4,494 euros); lower than that of Montenegro (6,355 euros) and Turkey (9,909) and higher than Albania (3,728) and Kosovo (3,304). These are the countries planned for the future enlargement of the EU. If our population, for example, does not amount to 2.1 million, but to 1.8 or 1.7 million inhabitants, which according to vital and migration statistics is a very likely result, then our GDP per capita will be at least 10-15 percent higher and will be between 5.550 and 5.880 euros per capita, which will at least slightly change the image of our economic power and our standard in comparison with that of neighbors and the EU. There are so many minor things to do. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, so that we can be, as the Slovenian ambassador said “well-prepared” country for starting accession negotiations with the EU.