When the euphoria passes, what remains is the question: Will we be better after we join NATO and the EU and what kind of perspective will we have? So far we have gone a long way with many challenges, and with right and courageous decisions we are here completely deserving. However, this is not a moment of relaxation; on the contrary, it is necessary to go through the hard part and finish the painstaking work of the reforms. And it’s worth finishing it!
It’s worth it! With NATO and EU membership there will be more benefits for the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia: it will cement the future strategic determination – united and equal, to be on the same decision-making table with the developed democracies and economies of the West. To make it clear, it is enough to look at the experiences of those who have went down this road, that is, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and some of them were so far back behind us at the beginning of the transition in the 1990s. Now they are part of the European Union and NATO. It’s a good lesson.
Central and Eastern European countries that became NATO members in 1999, then members of the EU with the big wave of EU enlargement in 2004, after which Albania and Croatia joined in 2009 (the train that Macedonia missed), and then in 2013 Croatia joined the EU, and last year Montenegro became the 29th NATO member state. From their experiences we will know best what we can expect. Believe it or not, good news is ahead, which gives us optimism about our future on the road we are on.
Looking at the experiences of these countries, a lot of positive things can be listed, based on Eurostat and the World Bank data on economic movements, although one may say that there will be things that will not be as good as we imagine. Yes, that’s right, but these ten facts, or related steps that lead from one to another from the first to the tenth, are firm arguments about the benefits that our citizens will feel from the integration into NATO and the EU.
First, NATO and EU membership means strengthening the geo-strategic positions of the Republic of Macedonia. As an equal member of NATO and the EU, we will be able to decide on important global and geo-strategic issues that we otherwise have no opportunity to influence if we are not a member. By joining NATO and the EU, on the principle of “equal among equals” and the principle of solidarity, we will have the opportunity to influence and the equal right to make decisions in these organizations.
Second, membership in NATO increases the country’s security and stability, thus creating a better basis for economic growth and development. Economic growth depends largely on the country’s ability to secure sustainable peace and stability, ie long-term security and political stability.
Third, NATO and EU membership will contribute to greater democratization and better governance. Member States have shown greater progress regarding the credibility of institutions, the effectiveness of the government, the rule of law, freedom of speech and the control of corruption. The dynamics of reforms are accelerating with NATO and EU membership.
Fourth, EU membership means entering one of the largest and most developed markets on a global scale, which increases the prospects for economic growth. It is a market of 500 million inhabitants or 7.5 percent of the world’s population, that is, the world’s largest economy with a share of 23.8 percent of the world’s GDP, followed by the United States with 22.2 percent and China by 13.4 percent in 2014 year. Accordingly, EU integration for Macedonia will mean entering a market 25 times larger, with a significantly lower unemployment rate and a higher living standard.
Fifth, NATO and EU membership contributes to a better business climate and a better credit rating for Macedonia. That is, member-states show faster progress in structural reforms to improve the business climate and private sector development. Stability along with predictability of policies also affects the country’s credit rating and the increase in investment.
Sixth, NATO and EU membership leads to an increase in total investment in the country. The security, stability and favorable business climate are encouraged by domestic and foreign investors, which are supported by increased lending activity of the banking sector. For example, foreign direct investment in Estonia, Latvia and Bulgaria have increased threefold in the first three years after membership in NATO and the EU, similar to Albania in the its first year of NATO membership, when foreign direct investment doubled.
Seventh, NATO and EU membership is followed by a trend of opening new jobs and reducing unemployment. New investments create new jobs, which are followed by investments in new knowledge and technology (know-how), as well as education reforms will contribute to increasing the competitiveness of the domestic economy. Statistics confirm this with an accelerated downward trend in reduced unemployment after EU and NATO membership.
Eighth, EU membership means an incentive to increase competitiveness and exports. New member-states have accelerated growth in labor productivity. Increased competitiveness will mean an increase in exports and trade and faster economic growth. Thus, the economy will be ready for competition in the big European market, which at the same time represents Macedonia’s largest trading partner.
Ninth, EU and NATO membership contributes to accelerating economic growth. The new member states are seeing more economic growth and are closer to the EU-28 living standard. That is, new members are growing faster than the Western Balkan countries. As an example, Latvia and Macedonia were at the same level of 20 percent of GDP per capita in relation to the EU-11 average in 1995, while in 2015 Latvia reached 50 percent, and Macedonia up to 25 percent. More specifically, at the time of Latvia’s accession to NATO in 2004, GDP growth in this country amounted to 8.3 percent, and it grew subsequently to 10.6 percent and 11.8 percent in the following years.
Tenth, and final, EU and NATO membership means a higher standard of living and a better quality of life for citizens. For this it is enough if we compare the experiences of the Western Balkan countries with the countries that have become EU members in the last two decades. If we compare GDP per capita relative to the EU-28 average, we will see that the Western Balkans, with one-third of the EU’s average GDP, are behind the new members at two thirds of the EU average and showing an advantage and in other indicators of quality of life, such as the quality of education, health and other social infrastructure.
And finally, this time we are not alone. With the membership in NATO and the EU, the financial assistance from abroad and from the European (structural funds) and international financial institutions will be increased. However, despite all the support that can be expected from outside, the solution is among us, our obligations remain for us, and we need to make those changes, and the winners will eventually be us, that is, our citizens!
(The author is a former Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs and a professor at the South East European University)